Two out of three students who completed the EM questionnaire in the past month indicated they had experienced sexually transgressive behaviour during their studies at Erasmus University. Almost half of the students indicated this behaviour was by somebody related to the university, mostly as a student but sometimes as a lecturer.

In a series of articles, EM highlights sexual transgression among students in the coming weeks.

Part 1: Dire cases are no exception for sexual harassment among students

Part 2: University has little insight into sexual harassment among students

Part 3: ‘It feels like I’m the one being punished for the assault, not the perpetrator’

Part 4: What students find sexually transgressive

Students have all kinds of sexually transgressive experiences. These range from penetration or oral sex against their will (9 per cent of respondents), being touched or kissed against their will (44 per cent), verbal sexually transgressive behaviour such as being called after in the street, jokes or remarks with a sexual connotation via social media, and dick pics (22 per cent).

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

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

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Dire cases are no exception for sexual harassment among students

Two out of three students say in a survey conducted by Erasmus Magazine that they have…

Few official complaints

They rarely report this to the university. Between 2016 and 2020, ten official complaints were filed with the Committee for Undesirable Behaviour, the committee which investigates students’ and employees’ complaints about undesirable behaviour. Only one of these complaints was declared well-founded. The reports to confidential counsellors about sexually transgressive behaviour has risen in the same period, up from seven notifications in 2016 to twenty in 2020.

The EM survey shows that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Only a small number of all students who indicate sexually transgressive experiences report this to a confidential counsellor, study advisor, lecturer or other university employee. Among students who experienced sexual penetration or oral sex against their will, 80 per cent did not report it; with other forms of sexually transgressive behaviour this was 90 per cent.

Few students know where they can go at the university with a notification concerning a sexually transgressive experience. One out of three students who completed the questionnaire knows how to get in touch with a confidential counsellor. Only 12 per cent know where sexually transgressive behaviour can be reported, and only 7 per cent know where an official complaint can be filed.

Less trust

Students with sexually transgressive experiences have less confidence in careful notification handling at the university than students who have never experienced this.

Almost half of the students who have indicated they have experienced sexually transgressive behaviour experience problems afterwards resulting from that behaviour. Especially students who have experienced penetration or oral sex against their will suffer from the experience later on. Four out of five were left with mental issues, and more than half with sexual problems. One in three says it had a detrimental effect on their study results.

Rector magnificus Annelien Bredenoord responded to the findings via a spokesperson:

“Every student or employee who does not feel safe is one too many. Erasmus University considers it essential that employees and students can perform in a pleasant, safe and stimulating atmosphere for work and study.”

“We have recently signed the Amnesty manifest to counter sexual harassment among students, and we also have our own concrete action plan. Besides, we are organising workshops and training, and we are launching an awareness campaign. In the past few years, we concentrated several times on social safety themes, such as harassment, via meetings, and we will continue to do so.”

“Although there is still considerable uneasiness and embarrassment about this subject, it is important that we keep on discussing it, for it concerns everyone of us. Students should have the opportunity to develop in a safe environment and should feel safe to report any concerns. Harassment, aggression, bullying and discrimination are unacceptable in our university. We are working on prevention and creating a safe environment to make reporting sexually transgressive behaviour possible.”

“We are currently setting up a central helpline to gain better insight as an institution into what should and can be improved. In addition, EUR has a network of confidential counsellors for employees and students. We want to support our students and employees when they want to report sexually transgressive behaviour. They can do so via our confidential counsellors in a situation in which their privacy and safety is safeguarded, as these should be. The confidential counsellors are the contacts for anyone who in his or her study or work situation has or had to cope with undesirable conduct or unequal treatment.”

Between 24 March and 10 April, 293 students completed the Erasmus Magazine survey. They were asked about their experiences with sexual harassment and reporting it, their own behaviour and ideas about what is sexually transgressive for them. Female students are overrepresented in the survey. 66 percent of respondents are women, compared to 55 per cent of all EUR students. The same probably applies to LGBTQ+ students, although that is difficult to say since it is not known what part of the students belongs to the LGBTQ+ community.

Due to this overrepresentation, it is possible that sexually transgressive experiences are reported a little more often, as other studies show that women and LGBTQ+ persons report more transgressive experiences. At the same time, we do not see major differences with the results on similar questions in previous research among students.

Do you want to know more about the investigation? Read this article where we explain how we did this and what choices we’ve made.

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