Trigger Warning: Rape and Sexual assault content.
Since the creation of this piece, Grocott’s Mail Online has published an article stating the arrest of two male UCKAR students in connection with the mugging in question.
On Thursday night a female student was the victim of an attempted mugging taking place in the parking lot of the Journalism department. This highlighted the need for student safety, and despite widespread discussion during the #RUReferenceList protest last year, events have proved womxn in particular are still not safe within our university.
This would be unsurprising to anyone who has listened to female students. Concerns over safety predates to last year’s protests – protests which resulted from those and other concerns being flippantly dismissed. And while #RUReferenceList may have made the public more aware of these issues, they cannot have been resolved if womxn are still the victims of crime regularly. This failure to deal with the issue is why womxn have been raising the issue of safety consistently this year, and the events of last night should be a wake up call to take this issue seriously. Hopefully, the investigation announced in the statement issued by the Communications and Advancement Division will not seek to sweep this incident under the carpet, and offer more than just “safety tips.” There should not be a need for another protest, or another female body to be assaulted, to remind us to avoid falling into the trap of denial and dismissal.
Towers Naidu, the manager of the Campus Protection Unit, takes a different point of view. In a conversation with Activate, he says that he believes it has been “blown out of proportion” by students on social media. Naidu describes CPU’s response as following normal procedure. When the incident was reported by the victim, CPU responded immediately, and have subsequently offered the victim therapy for the trauma the attack induced. CPU has urged the student to take up a case with the police.
Naidu emphasises that CPU can only be effective when an incident is reported. When asked how the university could aim to prevent crime, as opposed to simply responding after a crime has been reported, he stated his belief that students should take responsibility for their own safety by taking well-lit routes, and making use of security guard escorts. He clarifies, however, that these escorts are only to be used by students who are studying, and not by those simply going out at night. The bad lighting, too, he says is the responsibility of students who ought to report lights that don’t work – although CPU conducts weekly checks to determine which are working.
Despite access to this information, Naidu is silent on plans to fix current lights, or invest in new ones. If, however, CPU has such constant knowledge of events on campus, Naidu’s characterisation of the incident being blown out of proportion seems hard to swallow.
Esihle Faltein, who witnessed the mugging, first heard a scream she describes as being animalistic, and was herself traumatised. The reality of such an incident is it terrifies every student who can see themselves as the victim of the next such attack. Even if no other students suffered from such an assault, this brings into question whether marginalised students can be expected to live in fear of the possibility of assault – particularly where these students have to interrupt their academic program to work only during the day, only in groups, and only in the few instances where security is visible.
Those who enable violence and crime are actually the problem, derived from the attitude of male students. More so responsibilty should be taken for the form of masculinity prevalent in seeing womxn live in fear of sexual assault; to security forces seeing their job as punishing criminals, rather than creating an environment in which students feel safe. If security can be so visible during #RUReferenceList protests, and three police vehicles can be patrolling a single FeesMustFall meeting at the very beginning of this year, then it begins to look like these security forces want the opposite: for students to live in fear of crime in the absence of security, and to live in fear of police when they confront those criminals.
Image taken by Hossam el-Hamalawy.