The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) has banned sexual and romantic relationships between staff and undergraduate and honours students.

Wits’s new policy on sexual and romantic relationships was approved by its council on Friday.

In a statement, the university said the policy recognised that power dynamics exist between academics and students and it “seeks to protect students from sexually predatory lecturers, who enter into sexual and/or romantic relationships with students”.

“Although these relationships are technically consensual, in many situations the student feels completely unable to navigate and decisively reject the sexual overtures by lecturers for a range of reasons including being afraid to reject someone with so much institutional power.”

The university acknowledged that not all sexual/romantic relationships between staff members and undergraduate students were inherently problematic.

Wits said that gender-based harm (GBH) was unfortunately a common occurrence in society and across campuses.

“In order to proactively combat this problem and guard against the potential for abuse of power by lecturers in particular, the university developed the policy as one of many others that aims to combat GBH, sexual harassment and rape.”

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