The interviewee has been anonymised in this article, both in the text and the photograph, in order to protect the identity. The name is known to the editor-in-chief. EM will guarantee this anonymity at all times.
The student first met the alleged perpetrator at the beginning of her studies. “It was at a party in August 2020. We were new students and were both living in the Hatta Building,” she says. “Because we lived so near to each other, we became very close very quickly. We often did things together; he was one of my first friends in Rotterdam.”
In a series of articles, EM highlights sexual transgressive behaviour among students in the coming weeks. This is part 3.
Part 3: ‘It feels like I’m the one being punished for the assault, not the perpetrator’
Part 4: University has barely any insight into sexually transgressive behaviour among students
Part 5: What students find sexually transgressive
Repeatedly said 'no'
On Wednesday evening, 3 February 2021, while she was studying for an exam at home, she received a phone call from this male student. He was at a party, but would be leaving after he hung up the phone. He asked if he could drop by her. “He sounded drunk, but that wasn’t a problem. We often spent time together, then we would talk for hours and just had fun together”, the student recalls. The student adds that they had slept together a few times in the past. In the report of the COG that EM was allowed to examine, their relationship is described as a ‘friendship with a sexual aspect’.
At first, the evening also went normally; they chatted and hung out in her room, until the male student started trying to kiss her. Even though they had had sexual contact in the past, she found his actions odd. “Because I had literally just told him that I wanted nothing more than friendship from our relationship”, she states.
The student tried to stop him, but to no avail. He kept on going and held her down by force on the bed. At one point, the male student held her hands behind her back with one hand, while he tried to pull off her top with his other hand. “He is a strong guy, so I had to use all my strength to push him away. I repeatedly shouted that I didn’t want this and that he had to leave”, the student recounts. “It was surreal. When it happened, it felt like I wasn’t there, my brain couldn’t process what was going on. I was in shock that he could do this to me. Our friendship, my trust – all of it shattered.”
After a lengthy struggle, the student finally succeeded in pushing him off and getting him to leave. She then ran to the room next door and told a housemate what had happened. “She was totally distraught”, the housemate told EM. “She said that she’d been sexually assaulted by her best friend. I know that guy too, he came by often and they were genuinely good friends with each other.”
Getting in contact with confidential counsellors
The student spent the first few days trying to come to terms with the incident and sort things out in her head. She told a psychologist, her mother and close friends about the assault. “My mother said that maybe I should report it to the university”, she says. “At first I had my doubts. I wasn’t raped, is the incident significant enough to report? Is it really worth telling strangers what happened?”
Eventually she decided to contact a confidential counsellor. “The longer I thought about it, the more I felt compelled to report it. I know I am not the only one who has experienced sexually transgressive behaviour and that it is important to report it. I thought, the more reports that are made, the greater the need for the university to address the problem”, the student explains her reasons for going ahead and reporting the assault. “And maybe a report would help me to work through it myself.”
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.
The confidential counsellor advised the student to first contact the Municipal Health Service (GGD). At the GGD on the Schiedamsedijk, she was referred to staff members of the Sexual Assault Center (CSG). “I told my story to them, but they were unable to help me. They sent me to the police – they got in contact with them on my behalf – so that the police can add my story to their file on transgressive behaviour at the university”, she explains.
The student also received 385 euros from the CSG. According to a spokesperson for GGD Rotterdam, the funds came from the Compensation Fund1. “I didn’t know how to handle that”, the student responds. “They said I can use the money for anything I want, but it felt a bit weird that I was given money because I had been assaulted.”
The police recorded her story and advised her to report the incident to the university. According to a spokesperson for the Rotterdam police, the vice squad always gives survivors the space to tell their story. They then look at the criminal aspects of the story and investigate it further to uncover the truth. “Unfortunately, finding out the truth is sometimes difficult, because a sexual offence often happens in the private sphere without any witness”, the spokesperson went on to say. “In cases like these, we refer survivors to their institution, in this case the university.”
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Her word against his
On 17 February 2021, the female student sent a written report to the COG. The first hearing took place on 23 March 2021. Because the female student and the male student were never present at the same hearing, they had to respond to each other’s story afterwards, based on the report by the COG.
The male student denied all accusations, according to one of the reports. He emphasised that he had not attended a party and was not drunk on the night in question. He also stated that the sexual contact was consensual. “He told me that I kissed him back and then touched him first, which was not true at all!”, the student exclaims. “When the female student told him that she wanted to go to sleep, he got up and went to his own room”, the report goes on to say. According to the male student, the violence and sexual assault did not take place at all.
Because their statements differed so profoundly, the COG tried to find out the truth, among other things by asking witnesses. The female student asked the housemate to testify, while the male student took his housemate along with him. According to his housemate, the male student was not drunk. He said he knew that because they had a serious conversation about their studies that same evening. “When I read the statement made by his housemate, I became so angry. Because I knew that they hardly had any contact with each other, so it was impossible that they would talk about such an important subject in the way he told it to the committee”, she adds. “I was so upset that he denied everything and made his witness lie for him.”
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The student understands that the committee had to find out the truth and so had to ask some tough questions. “For example, they asked how he could take off my top when both my hands were behind my back”, she says. But she also had to hear questions like “Why didn’t you push him away harder?” and “Why didn’t you say ‘no’ one more time?” The student sighs: “How can I answer those kinds of questions? As if it is my fault that I was assaulted. It wasn’t easy to talk about it –and they blamed me because I didn’t scream louder?”
The COG complaint procedure takes too long, the student finds. The verdict only came out on 22 June 2021. “Those were the most horrible four months of my life. During that period, I couldn’t focus on my studies at all. I did everything to forget the pain: partying, drinking too much alcohol, going out. I was depressed and according to my psychologist I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. And even though I thought it was good that we did not have to see each other during the hearings, he still lived in the same building, so I saw him regularly, and that was absolute hell”, she recalls.
The COG ruled that her allegation was unfounded. According to the Committee, ‘crucial key points in the statement and allegation were insufficiently supported’ by the witnesses. The COG also considered the student’s statements inconsistent, among other aspects, about the nature of their relationship. “I still don’t understand how this could have constituted a reason”, the student says. “It doesn’t matter if we had sex with each other nor how often we did it, does it? What actually matters is the fact that my boundaries were crossed on that night, right?”
Apart from that, according to the COG, the student made different statements about how her top was taken off against her will. The student first testified that the male student took off her top, but then said it was pulled ‘up to her neck’. The COG also judged her on her choice of words. In the first hearing, the student talked about ‘my top’, while she talked about ‘my T-shirt’ in the second hearing. “So frustrating that they made that an issue. In my mind, a top and a t-shirt are simply the same thing”, the student continues. “When an incident like this happens, you just want to forget about it. It’s so hard to remember all the details and to clearly tell what exactly happened and how it happened.”
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“When I received the ruling, I cried all day. I felt so lonely and sad”, the student recalls. She found the way the university dealt with the complaint procedure to be cold and inhumane. “The ruling was sent in a standard email. Just two lines of text, nothing more. No phone call to round off the proceedings, not even a phone number of a psychologist or helpline that I could call”, she says. She has also not heard anything from the confidential counsellor who first spoke to her. According to confidential counsellor Martin Blok, this is not customary. “Of course, I do not know the context of the case and the agreements that were made between the student and the confidential counsellor, but normally confidential counsellors stand by the complainant, also during the hearings. This is because the COG procedure is quite a legal one, so we can imagine that the complainant needs support.”
Needless to say, the student is disappointed with the ruling by the COG. “I understand that it was difficult for the COG to make a decision without concrete evidence, but I still find it bizarre that they took his side”, she notes. “I didn’t want to deprive him of his education. I just wanted there to be consequences for his actions – a suspension or a ban on joining clubs, for example – so that it is clear that he can never do this to anyone else.”
The student takes a deep breath. “I thought I had worked through everything, but now that I talk about it, I find that it still cuts deep. I also don’t know how on earth you are supposed to cope with this kind of thing. Now it seems like I am the one who is being punished for what happened. He gets to go on with his life, while I am left with trauma and anxiety.”
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- This was a pilot project of the Dutch Violent Offences Compensation Fund (Schadefonds Geweldsmisdrijven) that ran from September 2020 to August 2021. Victims who received medical or psychological care from the CSG within seven days after an assault were entitled to compensation of 385 euros. This amount is equivalent to the statutory healthcare insurance deductible. ↩︎