What can we do about this?

To answer this question we need to think about the context of the University. South Africa’s high rates of sexual violence, its patriarchal norms which support male privilege and its high rates of alcohol use and abuse are all reflected in campus life. We should also think about the extent to which the University exhibits a ‘rape culture’, in other words, has norms and practices embedded in its structure that support sexual harassment. Examples include practices that:

  • normalise male violence (which may include persisting with demands even in the face of refusal),
  • promote female non-assertiveness/denial,
  • encourage victim blaming,
  • silence discussion around sexual matters, and
  • are silent about homophobia.

We might then reflect on the extent to which the following may play a role in sexual harassment on campus:

  • A paternalistic, even authoritarian attitude towards students
  • Aspects of residence culture, including:
  • Extension of high school networks and traditions in ways that are toxic
  • Residence rules and double standards (male/female residences)
  • Particular models of masculinity and femininity
  • Promotion of (active/tacit) alcohol use
  • Influence on attitudes and practices beyond residences – for male and female 

Why should we be concerned about sexual harassment?

Reasons we should be concerned about sexual harassment include the following:

  • Sexual harassment is widespread and normalised because it reflects broader societal attitudes about gender and sexuality. This is reflected in the tendency to trivialise sexual harassment as ‘just flirting’; by blaming victims for ‘inviting’ the unwanted attention; by refusing to acknowledge the resultant harm (not just to the individual concerned, but more widely) in placing limits on how we live our lives.
  • Sexual harassment is a violation of universal values of integrity, human dignity, privacy, equity and mutual respect.
  • Sexual harassment is a form of unfair discrimination and constitutes a barrier to equity in the University community or workplace.
  • Sexual harassment undermines a sense of safety and security on campus and limits the freedom and confidence of potential and actual victims to live their lives to the fullest.

Sexual harassment is not just an individual matter, or a matter of just a few ‘bad apples’. It affects us all.

Published by Buyi Nkonyane

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