Trigger Warning: The following post contains a discussion surrounding rape and sexual violence on university campuses.
Let’s get one thing straight before I begin this discussion. No matter the circumstances, no matter the cause, no matter the clothing, touching somebody without her OR his consent is not okay. The human right to privacy is protected not only by the South African constitution, but also by the Human Rights Declaration on a global scale. There are no excuses for the violation of this right – or at least, there shouldn’t be.
In light of the current protests on my university campus, I think it’s so important that we come back to this salient point. That the management of Rhodes University can condone non-consensual acts of sexual violence is deeply disturbing. That they can’t see the error in their poor attempts to subdue protests without actually promising meaningful change regarding rape legislation is disgusting. This is an institution that is responsible for the education and wellbeing of all its students – two factors that could destroy our futures if left unattended.
A shocking reality lies at the core of rape culture on our campus: I would sooner be expelled for plagiarism than for sexually abusing another student.
I stuck all this information in the foreground of my mind, where it rallied up all my secret fears of walking home alone and flashing just too much flesh to feel safe. Memories welled up to the surface, too – of my parents warning me about date-rape drugs, teachers advising me not to get into situations I couldn’t fight my way out of, my friends telling me the horror stories of wandering hands that didn’t stop at the magic word. And with my entire head feeling like it was about to explode from the fear and rage and anxiety, I stood up in the middle of my English lecture yesterday and joined the protestors at the doors.
This is all to say that I joined the protests out of a realization that we all had something in common – we had all been affected by rape culture, albeit in different manifestations and degrees of severity, and I wanted to be there not only for myself but for those that it affected in the most violent ways.
And that’s the reason why I’m writing this post today. To remind myself, and any others out there, that we’re not here to skip classes and manipulate other students into joining our fight. We’re here to challenge a sexist institution that has allowed a culture around violence to develop on its grounds. We’re here to show survivors that they are not alone, and that if they feel afraid, we are here to fight for them.
In a society that favours the perpetrators, it is our responsibility to consider the survivors of rape at all times. This means that we are sensitive to their needs, and that we understand the difficulty they face in standing up. We don’t force them out of their comfort zones because they have been through enough already. We are conscious of the way our words might affect them, the way our actions must encourage them. We are aware of their struggle, even if they remain nameless, unnoticed in the crowd. We are here, always, for them.
That being said, we are not here to traumatize other students on campus. We already have the moral high ground – why throw it away by infringing on the rights of others? There’s this myth about numbers that we’ve all bought into, the belief that if the entire university stands up, management will have to back down. And I do believe that there is some truth in that. But there are better ways to multiply our force than storming residences and pulling people out of lectures.
We need to respect other people’s right to choose to join the protests or not. By instigating a peaceful protest, respecting the rights of others and their needs, and encouraging participation rather than trying to force it, we’ll be more successful in achieving our demands. If we protest without infringing on the rights of others, we don’t have to split our focus to include the involvement of police and law enforcement complications.
This protest has the potential to change mind sets countrywide. We are already demonstrating to rapists everywhere that sexual violence will not be tolerated, in any form. If we can eradicate rape culture on campus, imagine what could follow. The fight has begun, and we will not step down.
But remember the cause.
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