Gender-based violence (GBV) is a term that constitutes various forms of abuse, and which could occur in teaching and learning spaces, workspaces, residences and public spaces, including at the University of Pretoria (UP). With the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children campaign currently underway, it is an opportune time for staff and students to understand the full spectrum that GBV covers in an effort to combat this scourge.
GBV is a type of abuse that is directed at someone based on their biological sex or gender identity. It manifests as physical, sexual, verbal, emotional and psychological violations; these can take the form of attacks, threats, coercion as well as economic or educational deprivation, in people’s public or private lives.
Many are not aware of just how many types of behaviour can be placed under the term GBV. In essence, if someone conducts an act that is sexual towards another person, and the recipient does not welcome that act (no matter what the doer intended), and the recipient has communicated that they did not appreciate that action or act, but the doer persists, it is unquestionably harassment of a sexual nature. This takes many and varied forms.
Sexual harassment, sexual assault, intimate partner violence and rape are all considered forms of GBV, and could involve staff, students, contractors and visitors on campus. Physical assault by intimate partners, actions against individuals who are perceived as gender non-conforming, or preventing or interfering with a partner’s studies by withholding fees, for example, constitute GBV.
Sexual harassment in particular encompasses several unsolicited actions. These include groping, uninvited kissing and fondling, inappropriately long hugs, suggestive touching, leering, stalking or flashing (defined as exposing genital organs, buttocks or breasts to others, according to the Sexual Offences Act). Grading or rating someone’s appearance; wolf-whistling; making repeated, unwanted requests for dates; making derogatory comments, including in relation to a person’s gender non-conformity, are all also considered to be sexual harassment.
A single incident of unwelcome sexual conduct, depending on the nature, extent and severity of it, could constitute sexual harassment. This sort of conduct could be occurring on campus, and could take the form of requests or demands for sex in exchange for improved marks, residence accommodation or other needs and benefits; spying, or intruding on students in residences while bathing or dressing; as well as streaking.
Cyberspace is another area that has become rife with sexual misconduct. This often manifests as non-consensual recording or broadcasting of sexual activity; non-consensual distribution of photographs, information about another person’s sexual activity, nakedness or intimate parts; and non-consensual voyeurism.
Quid pro quo harassment and sexual favouritism are additional forms of sexual harassment whereby someone is coerced into a sexual act in exchange for favours. It involves threats of being failed, dismissed, not being promoted or appointed unless the person succumbs to the sexual requests.
Sarah Matseke is Acting Manager of Transformation at the University of Pretoria.
Students who have experienced sexual misconduct of any sort are encouraged to contact the Transformation Office for assistance. Email Sarah Matseke ([email protected]) or Nontsikelelo Loteni ([email protected]).