Call to name sexual predators at varsities

PREMIUM

Name and shame sexual predators preying on students and staff at universities.
That is the call from a group of academics at institutions across SA who, in an open letter, have urged higher education and training minister Naledi Pandor to order a nationwide investigation into sexual offences at universities.
The academics, including lecturers from Nelson Mandela University, Rhodes University and the University of Pretoria, say in the letter that sexual offences and sexual violence are rampant at some campuses.
In one reported case, a lecturer at Fort Hare University resigned under a cloud in October after he was found guilty in an internal inquiry of forcing a student to perform a sexual act in exchange for marks.
The man, who cannot be named because he has not yet pleaded in a court of law, was reportedly employed at two other universities prior to his time at Fort Hare.
His case formed part of a television programme earlier in March.
“We were provoked by what we saw [on the TV programme Checkpoint] because it affirmed much of what we already know,” Rhodes University’s Dr Siphokazi Magadla said.
“And it’s important to say that this is not only a Rhodes [University] or Fort Hare issue – it’s a national issue as much as sexual violence is a national issue beyond higher education,” she said.
Signatories to the open letter include NMU sociology and anthropology department lecturer Babalwa Magoqwana.
Pandor’s spokesperson, Lunga Ngqengelele, confirmed that Pandor had received the letter at the weekend and was studying it.
The letter says: “In the last few years, we have witnessed a number of protests against sexual violence in higher education institutions.
“These include the efforts of students protesting under the #RUReferenceList and ‘Rape Culture in Universities’ banners.
“Of course, protesting against sexual offences in higher education is not a new phenomenon since, internationally, such protests began as early as the 1970s.
“This background indicates the continued presence and pervasiveness of sexual harassment and violence in the sector.”
Magadla said: “The thing we are picking up is that the approach the universities have is a single-institution approach.
“So, as the case pointed out [in Checkpoint], the perpetrators are able to escape from one institution to the other [and] we are saying to the minister, please provide leadership in creating a coherent approach to this situation.
“The core part of our demand is that we need a thorough investigation around the scope of sexual violence in higher education and training.
“We need a list of offenders that is going to be available on a national level and is part of the internal process that when you employ someone HR has to be accountable in making sure the person does not have a history of sexual violence.
“And when people are found out that they are guilty, they ought to be blacklisted.”
Some of the other demands in the open letter include:
● The standardisation of resourcing of offices tasked with dealing with sexual offences in higher education institutions. The system of resourcing developed should factor in the size of each institution.
● Instituting a charter on ethics that will be signed by all staff and students who assume positions of leadership in higher education institutions. The charter should clearly specify ethical conduct that pertains to the eradication of sexual harassment and violence.
● Instituting quarterly reports in which all vice-chancellors disclose statistics on sexual offences in their institutions.
University of Pretoria lecturer Athembile Masola said: “Our position as the knowledge producers, as the researchers, as the teachers, is to say enough is enough.
“We don’t feel safe and there is enough evidence that something has gone wrong.
“There are a lot things that need to be done.
“It cannot be that these sexual predators are allowed to jump from one university to another.”
Masola said there should be a database of offenders that the universities could check...

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