The Future of Sexual Assault Response Team

by Adam J Kirschner

The fate of many survivors of sexual violence at the University of Cape Town hangs in the balance of the restructuring of the Discrimination and Harassment Office (DISCHO), the HIV/AIDS Inclusivity & Change Unit (HAICU) and other institutions under the umbrella of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC) of Transformation, Loretta Feris. According to the Interim Chair of the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), Dr. Lillian Artz, the restructuring will have “quite serious implications for the role of SART” at UCT. Hopefully, these implications will ease institutional challenges that survivors face through better training of staff and faculty, easier reporting processes and increased funding towards projects that support survivors.

 

According to Dela Gwala, member of SART and the representative of UCT Survivors, it is especially important to train residence wardens because they are vital to the reporting process: “Some survivors have reported to their ‘res’ wardens, and the issue didn’t go forward, or they were given the wrong information.” Ronel Koekemoer, UCT Survivors’ other member of SART, provided an example of just this. She attested that a survivor requested for a perpetrator to be moved to a different residence, but instead, the survivor was relocated from the residence.

 

Another challenge involves training.  Training is vitally important for faculty who sit on the Student Disciplinary Tribunal who hear cases involving allegations of sexual assault. As of now, these proctors are only given information about sexual violence by Rashieda Khan, the Legal Advising Coordinator of DISCHO. However, Ms. Khan is given less than an hour a year to train the proctors. Because these proctors mainly deal with cases like plagiarism, they often do not possess the specialist training to make impartial rulings on cases related to sexual violence. In addition, Khan believes that proctors do not all want to be trained, “Most of the time people think it is not a problem until something happens, and then they realize it’s a serious problem… we can only ask if we can do the training, but we can’t force people to do the training.” Training for residence wardens and proctors of the Disciplinary Tribunal has been in the process of being developed but has yet to be implemented by the university.

 

Training is especially important because the long and arduous Tribunal process can be intimidating or traumatizing for some survivors. For instance, Koekemoer stated, “We dealt with a case where not only was the perpetrator in the same space [as the survivor], but the perpetrator also brought a group of supporters outside Bremner and that completely intimidated the person.” To compound the problem, as it currently stands, cases related to protest actions are prioritized higher by the Tribunal than all cases related to sexual violence. In contrast, in  the South African Criminal Justice System, Sexual Offences Courts have been established to prioritize cases of sexual violence so as not to further traumatize survivors from proceedings.

 

Members of SART are working on developing training related to sexual violence for staff and faculty.

In 2016, members of SART were working to bring a sexual violence reporting software system called Callisto to UCT. This system would allow for students to anonymously report other students’ sexual misconduct. It targeted serial perpetrators by notifying complainants only if another member of the university community made a complaint against the same individual. However, according to the former Administrative Assistant of SART, Giselle Warton, the development of this system was passed onto the DVC of Transformation where she does not think it is being prioritized at the moment. SART did not have the resources or funding to implement a system like Callisto on its own.

 

Most of SART’s funding in 2016 came from research grants from Warton and the SART’s former Chair, Sinegugu Duma. The Communications and Marketing Department at UCT also gave funding to SART for web design and outreach. According to the Executive Director of Communications and Marketing, Gerda Kruger, “Vice Chancellor [Max Price] committed to give a budget” to SART, but no money was given in 2016 or 2017 because of bureaucratic red tape and the fact that “he didn’t quite know how much [to give]. There was a discussion to decide how big [SART] should be or how small.” Partially because no figure was  decided initially from the VC office, no money was allocated for SART at all. Even the physical SART office space was donated by the Communications and Marketing Department. SART requested an office from the DVC of Transformation but no response was given. In addition, the office Duma and Warton had was not suitable as a space for survivors due to privacy concerns.

 

Despite the challenges that SART has faced, the restructuring of Transformation offers real opportunities for institutional changes at UCT. Kruger expressed her approval of SART saying that “we have to make [SART] bigger, better all the time” and that SART is vital for “analyzing trends” and looking into “big picture things” related to sexual violence. The benefits of a centralized institution that studies trends and patterns in sexual violence was evident when DISCHO noticed that the rapes occurring around Rhodes Memorial in 2015-2016 appeared to be linked, and it called for increased security to that area. Kruger also explained how the Communications and Marketing Department is partnering with the Student Representative Council and working to get funding for an “in your face” awareness campaign which will reach every single student and staff member on campus.

 

Regardless of the outcome of the restructuring, Dr. Artz has assured that SART will “continue playing a role in monitoring and capacity building” so that the UCT acts with a survivor-centred approach. For a group of students like survivors of sexual violence, the restructuring of Transformation and SART offers a chance to right many of the historical and present institutional wrongs at UCT.

The DVC of Transformation, Loretta Feris, declined an interview for this article.

 

 

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