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UCT rape allegations laid bare in leaked report

UCT was in the centre of a Twitter storm after it emerged that a rape victim was ostracised. LEON LESTRADE African News Agency (ANA)

UCT was in the centre of a Twitter storm after it emerged that a rape victim was ostracised. LEON LESTRADE African News Agency (ANA)

Published May 21, 2022

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Cape Town - Damning details have emerged following an investigation into a sexual harassment case at UCT.

An investigation by the Weekend Argus, with the assistance of people close to the case, uncovered a report by the department of health, a signed statement from the student, letters with intent to suspend the student after she allegedly leaked information about her ordeal and medical records by doctors.

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According to the department’s report, UCT and the Western Cape Department of Health and Wellness reportedly failed to act against a professor who allegedly sexually harassed the post-graduate student who also works for one of the department’s hospitals.

The student declined to comment, citing fears of victimisation and suspension after tweeting about her ordeal this week.

“I’m a UCT student raped by a UCT professor on UCT premises. I reported thus (sic) to UCT & for months they failed to act/suspend (the) rapist. UCT has instructed me to not report the matter & keep it ‘internal’. I received threats from (the) rapist. I’m in witness protection.”

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The details are laid bare in the investigation sanctioned by the department of health. The document showed that the incidents began as racial discrimination and escalated to sexual and physical harassment at one of the hospitals where the student worked.

Two other professors were also fingered in the report after they allegedly made sexually suggestive remarks to the student.

The investigation concluded in February. The incidents spanned two years, and the alleged rape was in March last year.

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According to the complainant, as stated in the report, the professor first made comments about her body, hips, large lips and dark body. It further states that when the complainant was alone with the professor, who is also her head of department, she told him about her experience of abuse and feeling ostracised. The professor allegedly told her that he was the most powerful person in the department and that she was beautiful, before telling her that she should go home and learn bedroom skills and that she should open her legs instead of reading books.

The report stated that the professor allegedly touched her inappropriately and forced himself on her. The student told investigators that she froze while all this was happening before storming out of the office and being chased after by the secretary, who wondered what was happening.

During the investigation, it was agreed that the student would be supervised by a different professor, but this recommendation was a not upheld by the department. Findings by the investigator were based on the interview with the student and with her mental state and presentation, it was likely that the physical sexual harassment had occurred as described in her account.

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The investigation also found that there were sufficient grounds to proceed with a precautionary suspension of the professor pending further investigation because the professor presented a threat to the student and other employees, and the conduct complained of was of a very serious nature.

Despite the findings, the professor was never suspended nor faced any action. When approached for comment, UCT and the department of health confirmed that they were investigating the allegations but did not comment on the report and or whether any action had been taken against the professor.

This prompted UCT vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng to respond: “This student has refused help from the university. She must say what her real agenda is.”

“Please help her because she has declined all help from us. It’s been three years. Perhaps she will accept help from you. With us, she prefers to pop up every now and then to make this allegation against me,” she said.

Phakeng’s response drew criticism from social media with users calling the “deputy mother”, as she is affectionately known, evil and telling her to retract the tweet.

“UCT is not at liberty to discuss this further in the public domain but can state that the matter is being dealt with and reviewed by the relevant and appropriate independent investigation panels,” said UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola. “The independent investigation must be allowed to conclude.”

Health spokesperson Mark van der Heever said the department and UCT had a zero tolerance policy on sexual abuse, racism or bullying, which was why they appointed an investigator to look into the sexual abuse allegations.

“The student has refused to meet with the investigating officer. UCT and the department have both made psycho-social support available to the student on several occasions which she has also not accepted. This investigation is ongoing. The allegation of rape is being investigated by the SAPS.”

The SRC expressed outrage with regards to the response by the VC on Twitter. “It is through such victim-blaming and intimidating responses that GBV in the institution is hot spot,” read the statement.

Police also confirmed that they were investigating a rape case and attempts on the student’s life, but no arrests had been made so far.

“The under mentioned matters, Woodstock Rape and Cape Town Central Assault with the intent to do grievous bodily harm are currently under investigation at the FCS Unit Cape Town. No person has been arrested at this stage, investigations continue. The investigation officer is Detective Captain Willie Reyneveld of Cape Town FCS,” police said.

Weekend Argus

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