Many Sexual Assault Cases Go Unreported On University And College Campuses

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A lot of work needs to be done if university and TVET campuses are to be considered safe. The development of robust policies and improved security protocols is at the centre of the Higher Education Department's plan to improve campus safety.


Higher Education and Training Minister, Blade Nzimade says significant strides have been made in implementing measures to combat Gender-Based Violence (GBV) at South Africa’s higher learning institutions. 

The minister was speaking at the inaugural Transforming MENtalities Summit, where they stressed the importance of addressing the root causes of violence against women. 

The Post-School Education and Training (PSET) sector in South Africa comprises over 2.5 million young individuals, with females accounting for 51% of these individuals. 

Nzimande highlighted that 10% of all reported rape cases originate from young women within the higher education sector. Disturbingly, only one in ten women report a rape case which suggests that acts of sexual assault may be higher than reported at universities and TVET colleges. 

The minister emphasised that their department is committed to working through Higher Health to implement robust systems, controls, infrastructure, and safety measures to combat GBV within the PSET sector. Since the launch of the GBV Policy Framework in 2020, Higher Health has been actively building institutional capacity and resources to address GBV issues effectively.

One significant development in this effort was the establishment of a Technical Task Team comprising higher education stakeholders and technical experts. Together, they are developing a multi-sectoral response to GBV within the PSET system. 

In 2021, the Task Team released the Policy Framework to Address Gender-Based Violence in the Post-School Education and Training System.The policy provides procedural guidelines on handling GBV cases on campus, protocols on rape, and a code of ethics. 

As part of Women's Month celebrations this year, the Task Team unveiled additional protocols, including those on Campus Safety and Security Minimum Standards, Safety in Private Accommodation, Safety in Residences, and Staff-Student Relationships.

It was also revealed that Higher Health is collaborating with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to develop protocols for complaints, whistleblowing, and other legislative requirements for the higher education system.

Minister Nzimande stressed that Higher Health continues to implement various programs and support structures for students and frontline staff across 420 campuses in urban and rural areas throughout South Africa.

Another important achievement in addressing GBV in PSET institutions includes the launch of an online National Qualifications Framework (NQF) Level 5 Civic and Health Education Skills Programme in July 2023, which is the first of its kind in the Global South. The programme will cover modules that include gender-based violence and will be offered in all 12 South African languages. 

Nzimande further revealed that Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) are also set to do their part in deepening efforts to combat GBV within the sector. 

The HSRC is set to collaborate with academics and researchers from universities and various other civil organisations to gather collective insights and mobilise men and boys as staunch allies in the campaign against violence. 

The council's studies will centre around high-risk communities, examining intricate layers of perception, aspiration, and change in KwaZulu Natal, the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, and Limpopo—provinces that bear the brunt of reported rape cases.

Our journey will not be solitary. It will be a collective effort of research networks, embracing institutions such as Nelson Mandela University, University of the Western Cape, University of Venda, and [the] University of KwaZulu-Natal,” 

The Transforming MENtalities Summit aligns with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's (UNESCO) Transforming MENtalities initiative, launched in 2015 in Latin America and the Caribbean, which has since spread to several other countries. 

Minister Talks Campus Safety 

Earlier this week, Minister Nzimande was questioned about the security of Vice-chancellors who increasingly face death threats. They said security at institutions of higher learning should focus on everyone within institutions and not only senior management. 

Let me be clear about safety We are talking about the safety of everybody not just the safety to vice-chancellors, You know it's not only the Vice Chancellor's lives which are important everybody's life is important

Minister Nzimande said their department is committed to finding resolutions to make higher education institutions safer for all stakeholders.

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With 2 600 gender-based violence incidents being reported at higher education institutions last year, the Department of Higher Education is being called to implement effective strategies to ensure the safety of students. The Department has said that it has plans in place.


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