Tim Wellem* is stressed and has many questions. He can’t understand why someone would accuse him of rape on Twitter, and he says the damage to his reputation has been immense.
He is among a group of 10 students at Rhodes University, whose names and pictures appeared on a Twitter page called Rhodes Trashboys earlier this month.
The posts accused the students of rape and stealthing – an act of removing a condom during sex without the consent of the partner, which is considered as rape.
It also revealed that there was a gang operating at Rhodes University that offered young female students vodka in exchange for sex.
The account had since been deleted.
Wellem was the only one on the list who responded to City Press’s requests for comment.
He was accused of being “a good for nothing scumbag [who] raped two women”.
The post stated: “He invites girls to his house to drink and he makes sure he’s not as drunk as everyone else. He rapes them once they’re unconscious without their consent. Wish he was aborted by his mother.”
Wellem said he heard about the allegations against him.
“I don’t have a Twitter account so I just got messages from people telling me about it. I still don’t know who is behind the page, I don’t know who is accusing me [if any]. I don’t know if these people are even from Rhodes. I don’t know if someone just hates me for some other reason. It’s just so draining because I can’t get answers to these questions.”
Wellem said he planned to meet with the university management and lawyers to deal with his name being published without his consent.
The Rhodes Trashboy page emerged shortly after sources earlier this month told City Press of “games” played by male students over the years, who competed with each other and then told their tales of conquest.
The games, sources said at the time, created a futile environment for rape and they claimed that these games were still being played on campus.
A former student activist at the university in the late 2000s claimed last week that university management – particularly current vice-chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela – was to blame for failing to act.
The student alleged that, at the time of their activism campaign against rape culture, Mabizela was the deputy vice-chancellor for academic and student affairs and had made commitments to change circumstances.
Mabizela denied these claims. “There is not a whit of truth in the malicious claim that I have not done anything to address sexual and gender-based violence at Rhodes. I do not know which incidents are referred to. Any incident of sexual or gender-based violence that has been reported has been acted upon appropriately, effectively and expeditiously.”
Dangers of social media naming and shaming
Social media lawyer and founder of The Digital Law Company, Emma Sadleir, warned of the dangers of naming the accused persons, who have not been asked to plead guilty or not against their charges.
Sadleir said section 152(2)(b) of the Criminal Procedure Act provided that until the accused in a sexual offence case has been asked to plead in court, the accused may not be named.
“The issue arises when someone chooses not to open a case of sexual assault or sexual harassment. This isn’t uncommon and many people choose not to as the cross examination and court process can be gruelling and reopen trauma that many victims aren’t ready to deal with again. The rate of guilty prosecutions is also very very low. However, this means the line is often blurred and we need to be careful not to taint valid movements such as #MeToo by making false claims in order to intentionally tarnish a person’s reputation.”
Before posting, victims needed to obtain evidence to back up their claims, she said.
Sadleir added that organisations needed to treat victims with respect and take them seriously to avoid their brands being dragged into the mess.
Organisations needed to have internal whistle-blowing procedures for victims.
If every case was dealt with properly and those speaking out were treated with respect, activists would be less likely to take to social media to vent their issues.
She said if allegations made against named and shamed suspects were untrue they could sue for defamation. However, this could be a lengthy and expensive process and rewards for defamation in South Africa were historically low, she said.
The second option, Sadleir said, was to open a case of crimen injuria at a police station, which was criminal harm to one’s dignity. Considering the nature of the claims there were high chances of success and the person responsible could have a criminal record, she said.
Another option was obtaining a protection order from a magistrates’ court under the Protection From Harassment Act.
Rhodes University spokesperson Veliswa Mhlope said the university was aware of the Rhodes Trashboys page and a number of malicious, slanderous and unfounded allegations made against the university by either current or former students in some cases and anonymous individuals in others.
“Where students have reported sexual assault, the university has acted by way of providing support and by prosecuting cases. This includes encouraging students to report matters to the police and assisting them in doing so,” Mhlope said.
* Not his real name