What was the aim of the research?

The research question that guided this project was: ““How are the drivers of campus rape culture understood and experienced by women students at Stellenbosch University?”

This research focused on the drivers of campus rape culture, as experienced and understood by women students at Stellenbosch University. It looked at dominant gendered constructions of masculinities and femininities, norms around gendered formation, and the practices that impact these. It included a focus on the social constructions, influences and practices that promote campus rape culture, but also remained alert to those that can help to counter it.

Before the research project started, the two research leads secured formal ethical clearance and institutional permission from Stellenbosch University.

Who was involved?

This research project was led by Drs Elisabet le Roux and Selina Palm, both researchers at the interdisciplinary Unit for Religion and Development Research at Stellenbosch University. They drew on their years of research carried out globally within the international development sphere on gender-based violence, religion and culture, to launch a research project that would be truly participatory, centring women students, their experiences and their opinions.

In the second semester of 2019, the two research leads issued an open invitation to women students at Stellenbosch University to be part of this project. Five students completed the entire journey. Please click here for more on these students and the work they did.

We focused only on women’s experiences in this project. However, we hope to do another phase of this project in future, where a similar research question is asked and studied with men students.

The project also had five academic collaborators who are all women staff members at Stellenbosch University. While in different departments and faculties, they share a passion for gender justice and ending all forms of violence. In the daily running of the project, the two research leads were also assisted by a student assistant. To learn more about this wider team of collaborators, please click here.

What did we do?

The research project used an innovative qualitative methodology called PhotoVOICE 2.0, an empirical research methodology which was first adapted and piloted in community settings by Drs Le Roux and Palm in Zambia in 2018.  In this project in Stellenbosch this adapted form of Photovoice was used for the first time within a higher education setting. The original Photovoice was first designed and used by Caroline Wang and Mary Ann Burris as a participatory research methodology that allows people to record and reflect on their community’s strengths and concerns, promotes critical dialogue and knowledge about important community issues through discussion of the photographs, and reaches policy makers (Wang & Burris, 1997).

What is PhotoVOICE 2.0 and how did we use it?

PhotoVOICE 2.0 uses WhatsApp mobile technology to amplify the ‘voice’ component of the original methodology, focusing more attention on the stories being told by the researchers through their photos. A feminist approach to this participatory methodology captures stories, emotions and impressions in real time, providing an additional layer of data for later analysis. For a more detailed summary of the PhotoVOICE 2.0 methodology, click here.

In this project, the female students were trained over a number of days by the lead researchers as student researchers. They were empowered to both collect and analyse audio-visual data from within their own embedded situations. Using smartphones, they then took photos within their everyday contexts relevant to the topic being studied, then shared the photo virtually with the research leads using WhatsApp, accompanied by a short oral voice note. The voice note briefly described the photo, why it was taken, and what it meant subjectively to the student researcher.

This process started in January 2020 and continued for two months, but was then interrupted by COVID-19 and the closure of campus. After a two month pause, the methodology was adapted to rely primarily on voice notes. While student researchers could still share photos, movement constraints meant that they were encouraged to collect and share more voice notes, even ones unaccompanied by photos. As a result, the student researchers also engaged in virtual conversations about campus rape culture with their friends and fellow students, to explore the relevant issues, experiences and stories that they wanted to share voice notes on.

A total of 182 voice notes and 126 photos were shared by the student researchers.

During a series of endline virtual workshops, consisting of four 2-hour sessions over a two-week period, the student researchers analysed their data. Each student researcher was presented with all of her photos matched with her transcribed voice notes, and proceeded to analyse it in an individual and group process called Photoboarding. This was done in collaboration with the two lead researchers.

What is Photoboarding?

Photoboards were made by each student researcher by placing some of their selected photos and transcribed voice notes on a cardboard or a slide, and then presenting it to the others for discussion. Each student researcher built three separate Photoboards, each answering a different question:

  • What is the main theme of my photos and voice notes?
  • How do my photos and voice notes answer the research question?
  • What root causes, social norms and key practices relating to campus rape culture are being identified in my photos and voice notes?

The Photoboards helped the student researchers to surface their own insights on the core drivers or root causes of campus rape culture and what are identified by them as surface issues. This also highlighted the interconnections between their photos and voice notes and allowed other issues to emerge and be discussed in conversation with the other student researchers and the two lead researchers.

A final level of analysis of the material was then conducted by the lead researchers only. Each student researcher’s photos, voice notes, Photoboards, endline workshop presentations and remarks, and exit interview were reviewed individually as a whole, identifying what she took photos and made voice notes of, what types of issues she focused most on, and the main overarching themes of her data. A synthesis document was then created for each student researcher, based on these processes, summarising her photos and voice notes, emerging themes and overall focus. The synthesis documents formed the basis for an individual ‘journey’ plotted out for each student researcher in confidential consultation with them.

Anonymity and confidentiality

A key priority over the project was to ‘do no harm’ to those who chose to participate.  As a result, the five student researchers, while rightfully proud about the work they have done, have all been anonymised so as to keep them safe and protect them from any backlash. Their voice notes have been re-recorded by individuals who were not involved in the project, to ensure their anonymity.

Before starting the project, all the student researchers received extensive training on the ethical requirements of the research, including in which situations taking a photo requires informed consent. Before being exhibited on this website, all the photos underwent another round of vetting, to ensure that no photos taken in private spaces were included without informed consent. The voice notes were reviewed to remove any names of individuals or residences. Some individuals may still be able to identify a specific residence because of their personal intimate knowledge of campus.