Wits revises sex policy

Sexual Harassment Advisor at Wits’ Career Counselling and Development Unit (CCDU) says the university is doing all it can to deal with issues of sexual abuse on campus.

“We need to be more proactive,” Maria Wanyane admitted when questioned about the effectiveness of the university’s sexual harassment programmes.

Recent allegations of widespread sexual abuse of students by lecturers have rocked the university in the past week, and have put Wits’ ability to protect its students in the spotlight.

Wanyane explained that revisions to the Sexual Harassment Policy and Procedures document started last year were not a reaction to one specific incident, but part of the university’s overall revision of its social justice policies.

“We are trying to make changes to the whole system so that [each part] works together and effectively”, she said.

The latest draft of the policy was published on February 20 on the Wits website, (www.wits.ac.za).

In newspaper interviews and on Twitter, current and former students claimed that sexual harassment is the norm and not the exception, in more than one department at the university.

Wanyane did concede that because “sexual harassment is not part of the curriculum [they] had to fit it in where they could”, and this was not always possible because of busy teaching schedules.

“You don’t assume silence means there is no problem”, she said, and added that the university acted immediately where it determined danger was posed to a complainant, but that it was a challenge to investigate rumours that were not detailed or reported.

The current draft of the Policy and Procedures document states that, “[i]n the event that a complainant chooses not to follow a formal procedure, the employer should still assess the risk to other persons in the workplace”.

The document also sets out what the university defines as harassment, and also provides information on the steps staff and students need to follow if they feel they have been victims of harassment or abuse.

Wanyane said the revision of the policy was part of an awareness campaign that included workshops to educate the Wits community about sexual harassment and challenge people to “take a stand”.

“If I had the power I would have everyone trained by CCDU on how to deal with sexual harassment and the impact it has on their lives” Wanayne said.

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