Co-organiser Wai-Yin van Eijk said she was stunned at news of the rape in De Esch on 21 July. “I had been an exchange student in Indonesia myself, and had always believed the Netherlands to be the safer country of the two. So I couldn’t believe something like this would happen here, in my own city.”
With three friends, Van Eijk decided to take a stand and organise a silent march. “Our march couldn’t undo what had happened to this student, but we wanted to at least show that we stand behind her and that we’re hoping she can keep going,” adds Van Eijk.
After a brief speech from the organisers at the Stationsplein, the procession began moving towards the Oude Plantage in the Esch district. This is a route similar to the one taken by the victim as she headed home. The fact that the march was silent did not diminish its impact on the wider public.
Jeroen van der Meer was spending time with friends in the park beside the Markthal as the procession went past. “It was an impressive sight,” says Van der Meer. “People of all ages and backgrounds walking together for a common cause.”
The group was truly multicultural, and at first glance participants might be thought to have little in common. But they shared the same emotions: sorrow, undoubtedly, but also anger and courage.
Nathania Sunarya, possibly the youngest participant at just 11 years old, walked with her mother. “It’s fantastic that she’s walking with me, because I wanted to show my support.” Not far from Sunarya was an older man trying to keep up with the pace. He took a short break when the march stopped for a few minutes at Blaak.
Halfway along the Maasboulevard, Barbara, who is pregnant, joined the marchers: “I can’t walk too far in my condition, but I think this is so important and I wanted to participate.”
Fika Hilman, an Indonesian Master’s student of Maritime Economics at the EUR, also supported the initiative. “I’m happy that so many people came. I hope that as women we are not intimidated by this rape, but that we can use it as momentum allowing us to react more strongly against sexual violence.”
Charisse Mendeszoon agrees. “Right now the key word is ‘awareness’ because people are often inclined to blame the victim. Shorts, long dresses, regardless of what you wear or how you present yourself, sexual violence or intimidation is never the fault of the victim.”
Given the victim’s background, the organisers of the march contacted the Indonesian embassy. “We asked whether they would support us in organising this march for the student. They approved, provided that we protect the identity of the victim as much as possible so that she can remain anonymous. We respected this wish,” explains Van Eijk. “We also learned from the embassy that her family appreciated it very much.”
'Enough is enough'
When the march arrived at the Oude Plantage, Van Eijk finished with a clear message: look out for one another and be kind and courageous. “If you think somebody needs help, reach out, call the police or make some noise. Confront people you know if they overstep boundaries. This is a responsibility you bear as a friend, a partner or a family member,” said Van Eijk during her closing speech.
Participants held each other’s hands firmly during the minute’s silence that followed. Some were moved to tears. Said participant Nina Ravestein: “I hope the initiative doesn’t end here, because enough is enough. We have to combat sexual violence, and we have to do it now.”