Campus control comes under fire at Rethink Africa Roundtable discussion about sexual assault on campus.
The Campus security system at Wits University came under heavy criticism from students at a panel discussion on sexual harassment held earlier this week.
The Rethink Africa discussion which was meant to focus on issues of sexual assault and gender-based harm shifted its attention to the way in which Wits Campus Control deals with sexual harassment and safety.
Campus security lacks training to deal with cases of sexual assault.
In his opening remarks, Head of Wits Campus Control Mokgowa Kobe said that the department had been excused from handling cases of sexual assault because of the counselling component required in those cases. He admitted that Campus Control officers were not trained to deal directly with victims of sexual assault. “We are not properly trained to deal with them. But there is a very significant role we play and we pride ourselves in knowing that we know what to do,” said Kobe. Instead, Kobe said, victims are directed to the Wits Gender Equity Office.
Kobe also said that students should not only focus on security personnel as perpetrators of sexual harassment on the campus. Kobe said that both young and older students “are perpetrators of this crime”, arguing that the solution lies in a “community based” approach to the problem.
Escort services in the evening.
Students also expressed their frustrations that Campus Control officers were not willing to escort them to residences away from the main university precincts.
“Are you waiting for us to get raped before you escort us?” asked one of the students.
Kobe said that it is a challenge to escort students to their residences because students live all over Johannesburg and it was not possible for his office to escort every student home every evening.
The issue of private security on campus dominated for the majority of the discussion and some students raised concerns about the way in which women and queer bodies were approached and searched by male security officers.
Kobe said that he had not received a single complaint about harassment or assault from students that was linked to the security and added that the presence of private security at Wits was nothing to be proud of.
Charlene Beukes from the Gender Equity Office encouraged students to come to their office to report cases of sexual harassment and assault. She said her office was continuously working to create a safe space for all students and was open to criticism to improve.
Originally published on April 29, 2016, in Wits Vuvuzela here: