Since August 2021, Amnesty International has been asking Dutch universities and universities of applied sciences to sign a manifesto against sexual assault among students. A study conducted by the human rights organisation showed that rape is relatively common among students and that the majority of students do not know where to turn for help at their own institution if they have experienced sexual assault.

Recent studies conducted by the Dutch National Students’ Association (ISO) and the Dutch Education Inspectorate confirmed that victims of ‘unsafe situations’ tend not to report their experiences, meaning that problems sometimes remain invisible. A major survey on sexual assault among students conducted by Erasmus Magazine found the same thing.

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Workshops and training sessions

The manifesto outlines six action items. For instance, students should be able to attend workshops, e.g. bystander training, and staff should be trained to deal with subjects such as sexual assault in a ‘trauma-sensitive manner’. Furthermore, tertiary education institutions should have an effective complaints procedure in place.

Amsterdam’s VU University was the first Dutch tertiary education institution to sign the manifesto last year, but so far, only nine other institutions have followed suit. Erasmus University signed the manifesto in February, on the occasion of the launch of its sexual assault prevention action plan.

Utrecht University decided against signing the manifesto and hopes to tackle the problem with an action plan of its own. Delft University of Technology will not sign the manifesto because it does not want to organise workshops for all its students. Which is a great pity, says Janna Willems, an Amnesty International campaign officer.

Don’t you think you’re asking a lot of the education institutions, expecting them to take up those six action items?

“The institutions do ask us about that, but most understand why these types of training sessions are necessary. We don’t expect them to have all these things in place when they sign [the manifesto]. The implementation doesn’t start until after they sign, and that’s something we can help them with.”

So why are so few institutions signing the manifesto?

“We expect another ten institutions to sign within the next few weeks, and then we’ll have twenty [signatories]. And what we’re seeing isn’t bad: many institutions wish to draw up an action plan before signing. That means it’s taking a little longer, but, as a result, they will be able to show what they’re going to do, in practical terms, right off the bat.”

Aren’t they supposed to use the action items outlined in the manifesto?

“The action items are a foundation of sorts. We encourage them to do more than that. For instance, HAN University of Applied Sciences did that this week by presenting its ‘Wheel of Student Welfare’, and Maastricht University combined the signing of the manifesto with a conference. In other words, they really consider all the angles before signing, and we actually like it that way.”

So there is no lack of a sense of urgency?

“The institutions definitely feel that urgency, particularly after the Voice scandal and the student survey results that have been published. They’re working on it and we feel they’re taking it seriously. However, we do think it’s about time more institutions signed, because we’ve given them plenty of time to do so. It’s a major signal to students and the world outside, so we hope all institutions will be along for the ride by next academic year.”

Het Centrum voor Seksueel Geweld biedt hulp aan iedereen die een ongewenste seksuele ervaring heeft meegemaakt. Je kunt gratis en anoniem chatten of bellen met 0800-0188.

De universiteit heeft vertrouwenspersonen voor medewerkers en studenten waar je ongewenst gedrag kunt melden. Zij luisteren naar je verhaal en kunnen je helpen en doorverwijzen. Daarnaast is er een klachtenregeling ongewenst gedrag.

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 advisers for staff and students whom you can contact to report undesirable behaviour. The center staff will listen to your story and can help and refer you. There is also a complaints procedure for undesirable behaviour.

Uitslag enquete seksueel grensoverschrijdend gedrag – Esther Dijkstra

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