All around the world this month, university students have been speaking out against Gender Based Violence and institutional responses to Sexual Assault.
by Daniel P. Rossmeisl (News Editor)
[Due to the violent and triggering nature of the subject matter of this topic, VARSITY would like to issue a content warning for this piece]
Gender-Based-Violence (GBV), misogyny, sexual violence, and consistent institutional failure to sufficiently address these anti-women issues are not new to South Africans or to UCT students. Not only has a significant contingent of the university’s student and staff body, not to mention alumni, had to deal with these issues themselves – but the university has become a prominent advocate for change since the murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana on 24 August 2019. It is a mistake to think that these issues are solely the preserve of South African institutions. Over the past year, increasing student-led anti-GBV protests have been taking place across campuses globally.
Between 20 September and 6 October 2021, reported sexual assaults across the United States of America inspired several large-scaled protests on college campuses in at least seven states including: Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Alabama, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Missouri. In Canada, 9,000 students at Ontario’s Western University led a walk out to protest what they call a “culture of misogyny” on campus after a series of sexual assault allegations were publicly revealed. “Western says it protects its students, but the numbers say otherwise — 30 plus girls would say otherwise,” student, speaker and GBSV survivor Teigan Elliott. These assertions are supported by surveys conducted by the Association of American Universities which – in 2019 -found that nationwide 25.9% of undergraduate women reported they had been sexually assaulted during their time in college. In Britain, at the University of Warwick protesting sexual harassment and violence on campus took off in response to the murder of Sarah Everard.
In general, protesters accuse their schools of neglecting to take action to protect students (especially vulnerable students) and failing to confront the perpetuation of unhealthy male-dominated culture. Others accuse institutions of only taking performative, reactive action.
Unfortunately, institutional responses seem to be predictably lacking. Students from the University of Warwick say that poor prioritising has led to even fewer reports of sexual assaults coming out because of fear and hesitancy related to the incidents occurring outside of coronavirus regulations. Sereniti Simpson, a high school volleyball player from Charlotte, North Carolina in the United States, was told she would no longer be allowed to play because she participated in a student-led walkout protesting sexual violence held on Friday October 1. On October 6, 2021, Justice Secretary for the United Kingdom, Dominic Raab, revealed that he did not understand what misogyny is by making the point that “misogyny is absolutely wrong, whether it’s a man against a woman or a woman against a man.”