In 2019, Martin Blok set up a network of confidential counsellors so that employees and students could report undesirable behaviour more easily. Since then, all sorts of things have been taking shape. The confidential counsellors set up a variety of initiatives to make transgressive behaviour open to discussion and to get more people to think about safe work or study environments. “At the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) and the Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences, for example, we have peer counsellors who can show students how they can deal with undesirable behaviour.”


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More reports during corona

The network also had its hands full even during the corona period. In 2020, Blok’s colleagues received a total of 93 reports, compared to 86 the year before. “It is quite remarkable that more reports came in while everyone was stuck at home,” Blok says. “Although I have to say that the cases were less complicated overall. They mainly concerned online bullying, such as stalking or digital intimidation.”

More reports come from international students

When it comes to sexual harassment and intimidation, most reports are made by international students, Blok explains. “Dutch students tend to submit fewer reports, probably because they have their own safety net. They can talk about it with friends and family. Internationals don’t have such a network, so they are more dependent on confidential counsellors.”


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Blok himself tries to actively inform as many students as he possibly can. “We put up posters and hand out flyers, for instance, during the Eurekaweek. We show films about transgressive behaviour on the big screen in the Plaza. We also approach student advisors so that they can refer students to us,” he adds. “We are doing our best to remain visible. Once everything is open again, we hope to organise a theme day on social safety.”

Seven confidential counsellors are available to students at the different faculties. “You do not necessarily have to see the confidential counsellor of your own faculty or department. Sometimes it’s more comfortable to talk to someone who is not so close to you.”

Blind spot

The network also tries to raise the level of awareness amongst managers. Blok therefore advocates training for managers and employees on how to recognise and act upon undesirable behaviour. According to him, this could help bring about a cultural change. “Recognising undesirable behaviour in the workplace is crucial, but so is recognising it in yourself. Because it is a blind spot, people often do not realise that they are behaving in such an unacceptable way,” Blok explains. “It happens to both men and women. With men, it usually involves sexual harassment. With women, it has more to do with personal relationships, like intimidation or bullying.”

Blok is well aware that transgressive behaviour is a structural problem. “We are working on it. If a lot of reports come in from a particular faculty or department, we raise the alarm. We bring it to the attention of the Executive Board or the dean, and it is up to them to handle the problem further.” It is a complicated issue, Blok feels. “And an uncomfortable subject. Sometimes managers don’t know what to do about it either.”

By regularly raising the subject, Blok hopes to reach the people who engage in undesirable behaviour. “We need to talk about it a lot, we can raise awareness that way. A signal from the top tier of the organisation is also important. The Executive Board needs to clearly show that the EUR stands for a safe social environment.”

Workshops during Eurekaweek

As such, the EUR plays an important role in raising awareness amongst students. “As a university, you cannot teach students to behave properly during such a short period of study, but you can explain what the rules are and why they are there.” According to Blok, workshops on undesirable behaviour during introduction days are an example of an approachable way to make students aware of the problem. “We have been doing this at ISS for years already. The problem is that the people who participate in these workshops are usually those people who are already aware of and are interested in the subject. You really want to reach the people who don’t know that much about it yet, so perhaps we should make this kind of workshop compulsory.”

Counselling service

Always report undesirable behaviour, Blok emphasises one more time. “When confidential counsellors receive a report, the focus is on what the person reporting the incident wants,” Blok points out. All reports are handled in strict confidentiality and the interests of the person making the report come first. “We are not allowed to conduct an investigation ourselves. What we do in the main, is to offer guidance and refer the complainant to those parties who can help them further. With the consent of the person who filed the report, we try to see if we can solve the problem within the organisation.”

The Sexual Assault Center offers help to anyone who has experienced an unwanted sexual experience. You can chat or call them for free and anonymously at 0800-0188.

The university has confidential advisors for employees and students to whom you can report transgressive behavior. They will listen to your story and can help and refer you. There is also a complaints procedure for undesirable behavior.

Last week, the online show BOOS — meaning ‘angry’ in Dutch — reported that dozens of women candidates experienced sexual abuse during their participation in the Dutch talent show The Voice of Holland. The claim ranged from allegations of rape to sexually tinted WhatsApp messages by two coaches and the band leader. The Dutch public was shocked as a few very prominent artists were pointed to as the suspects.