A clear need emerges to respond better to the realities of campus rape culture as experienced by women students. A sense of disillusionment with many aspects of the current institutional processes pre-dominates, verbalised by some as “all roads lead to nothing happens?” But the research also showcases ways in which some students are resisting campus rape culture, and they offer concrete suggestions for how responses at SU can be more effective.

1. Institutional Change

Women students who participated in this study feel that SU as an institution needs to do more to change its traditions, make campus safer and more empowering for women, and ensure that men are held accountable. There is a need to prevent and respond appropriately to equip all students for gender equity and sexual respect, including after they leave university. Many feel that SU is more concerned with protecting its reputation than addressing root issues or putting a supportive trauma-informed process in place.

“I just felt so helpless that even physical structures in place to listen and hear and help students aren’t efficient enough. And for a student to manage to get your voice heard and it’s still not being listened to in this department where that’s their only job then it’s really problematic.”

“…(A) lack of empathy for victims…makes survivors feel violated and silenced. And if survivors have no voice, then campus rape culture has room to thrive.”

“I was walking around on campus and I saw someone pushing a orange cone into a hole in the cemented bricks and I found it funny because a specific male res makes their first years carry around those orange cones and it just shows you how deep the traditions can go. And I think that mentality of ‘it’s been such a longstanding way of thinking’ is a driver of campus rape culture because if it’s been around for a 100 years people might think there can’t be a problem.”

“Universities always wait for something really tragic to happen before they intervene, and even those interventions aren’t good enough, nothing is done to the perpetrator, he walks freely around…”

“…I find it laughable, statements like ‘no visitors’… this is the precaution that they’re trying to take to ensure people coming in to the rez and violating the students doesn’t happen.”

“…(W)hen you get someone in that position of power brushing off the situation or telling the students that we are being dramatic…the university basically tells the students, ‘this is not our problem, this is a police problem.”

“…(T)he executive at the university tends to protect its image over anything else…to look presentable and pretty.”

“One of the biggest drivers (of CRC) is the university’s lack of involvement in the situation… they don’t know how to deal with perpetrators in the most fair manner, they don’t know how to take care of survivors.”

2. Student Resistance

At the same time, some promising examples of resistance to these patterns are emerging from below through student action. They challenge and aim to transform harmful norms and practices. At the same time, this can create new dilemmas for many students involved.

“(This is) how the legacy of South Africa is coming to be. It’s no longer about acceptance or anti-racism or rainbow nation, it’s about how underwear is just ripped from us so easily.“

“A friend of mine was very against the whole notion of Men are Trash. But after that happened (Nene’s murder), he was forced to experience the sisterhood of the women around him and do research himself. Then he was able to change his views and develop a different set of understanding.”

“I also wanted the placards to be very upsetting just so people could see the gravity of certain realities that women face that queer bodies face.”

“…(J)ust because someone’s a minority or a marginalized group doesn’t mean they don’t have power in other spaces. I might be marginalized in Stellenbosch because I am Indian and a woman. But I also have power because English is my first language,…you could be a gay man but could be contributing to the patriarchy because they’re an ally as well, in the grand scheme of things, if they won’t listen to me because I’m a woman, even if he’s gay, he’s still a man. So he’ll still have power in that space… So as a minority group you think that we will all stand together to address the issue. But it’s not always the case because there can be tensions. How do we understand that we’re fighting the same battle, instead of fighting each other?”

“…(E)specially white men if they are able to listen, she felt empowered…they were willing to hear, to listen, to implement a change into their lives.”

“This graffiti hit a core nerve because as a student you’re constantly in a battle between defying the university and letting your grades suffer or just complying and trying to ensure a better future for yourself…but also dealing with the fact that a lot of social situations you are turning a blind eye too…it’s a constant predicament.”

3. Student Recommendations

A range of constructive suggestions are offered by the student researchers, and those they spoke to, for how SU can tackle campus rape culture institution-wide, from more prevention and training, targeting both students and staff, to improved trauma-informed responses for survivors, and clearer accountability for perpetration. Four main areas emerge consistently as needing to be urgently addressed.


Campus security emerged as both a significant issue of concern, and also as a key site for urgent intervention for all the student researchers.

Key suggestions included:

  • Take a pro-active, zero-tolerance approach to any form of inappropriate behaviour with students by any of the male security staff at SU.
  • Make it an institutional priority to proactively address, and provide training on, underlying problematic attitudes and norms held by male security staff.
  • Address perceptions by vulnerable students of frontline security personnel as often absent, or not seen to be taking their role seriously enough
  • Improve security within residences, and ensure greater accountability around the perceived failures of current residence security, including addressing loopholes and repeated failure by some security personnel to observe policy rules  (e.g., around students bringing in alcohol).
  • Provide more trained, active safety marshals within a range of SU club and social spaces, including female security officers.

“…(A) lot of woman said they felt campus security has been inappropriate with them…However, they still call campus security to be their safety net if they don’t want to walk home alone and that puts a lot of women in vulnerable positions.”


Residences emerged a key site for urgent intervention, with specific co-ed and male residences consistently named as problematic. Residence culture sits at the heart of campus rape culture and needs addressing. Currently its leadership is seen as both untrained and unaccountable.

Key suggestions included:

  • Build healthier, less sexualised connections between different residences that do not just ‘pair’ male and female residences, have ‘speed dating’ events or centre alcohol. This includes doing more to both prevent harassment at ‘skakels’, to get informal feedback from women after residence visits, as well as having external eyes assessing residences.
  • Address residence leadership structures and the need for targeted training and accountability, including taking student leader behaviour and support very seriously.
  • Create clear communication channels and set up interactive, regular and compulsory conversations to dismantle and reimagine life in all residences around equal and equitable interactions, diverse sexualities and respectful sexual consent.
  • Regularly bring multiple institutional stakeholders together to discuss all GBV-related cases and what has been done to ensure targeted accountability for people in power, and to address discrepancies and gaps in rules, policies and protocols between residences.
  • Take alcohol abuse more seriously, by having tailored institutional policies and interactive conversations with students around the realities of alcohol use, while at the same time avoiding simplistically blaming campus rape culture on alcohol abuse.

“…(T)here is rarely a space where you can share your stories of vulnerability or hurt that can also be an empowering space…it’s always a victim narrative …it needs to be a safe, open and honest environment … then I think all those stories and points can come across… where it’s not only the sharing of burdens, but in the process creating a community of support for change.”


  • Streamline, coordinate and simplify multi-stakeholder reporting processes to make it easier for students to report issues and reduce fears that victims will be shut down or retraumatised if they report.
  • Survivor accompaniment and support need to be strengthened, formalised and easy to access, with a need to avoid using damaging patterns of victim/perpetrator mediation
  • Equip and support all first responder staff with a trauma-informed approach.
  • Collaborate with anti-GBV student movements and change the narrative by opening safe yet empowering spaces for women to be taken seriously, to regularly speak up about their experiences and for men to listen.


  • Break cycles of impunity to ensure this issue is taken as seriously and transparently as other issues and that alleged perpetrators are not seen to be over-protected.
  • Do not only rely on formal criminal processes, but also create internal protocols and consequences for all SU-related institutions.
  • Train all staff and leaders at all levels on GBV and campus rape culture, and share information about a clear process of reporting that is also communicated visibly to all students.
  • Be an institutional leader on this issue and take steps to understand, engage and address the root causes that fuel campus rape culture, including the value systems and structures that stereotype or devalue women. Student researchers insist “…(I)f Stellenbosch University took a stand – other universities will follow.”

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