Student associations and societies are frequently in the news because of inappropriate sexual behaviour. Examples include the slut lists of the Vindicat association at the University of Groningen, the dinner of the Amsterdam student union A.S.C./A.V.S.V. at which female members are referred to as whores and sperm buckets, and group chats in which male members of the Maastricht University Tragos association gave orders for female members to be fondled. And this sometimes goes further than merely words. A survey carried out by Amnesty International shows that 1 in 10 women are raped in their student days.
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The boards of the principal associations in Utrecht found the figures alarming and want to do something about it. So at a meeting last week they signed a declaration of intent. This will be presented later this year to Mayor Sharon Dijksma and to Mariëtte Hamer, the national Government Commissioner for inappropriate behaviour.
Yason Sinout, chair of the Utrecht University student union Vidius, which organised the meeting, foresees similar action being taken nationwide. “All of us having the same guidelines provides greater security.”
In particular, the action points are a checklist for student associations and societies, Sinout continues. “For instance, one of the points is that they ought to put the contact details of confidential counsellors on their website.”
The document, which was drafted by the boards of various Utrecht student association boards, states that the signatories will incorporate rules of conduct to combat inappropriate behaviour in the statutes of the association. It also states that internal and external confidential counsellors must be appointed who are easy to locate and that training courses or other forms of support must be used to enable unpleasant experiences to be discussed.
Other university cities
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Agreements on how to deal with inappropriate sexual behaviour have been reached not only in Utrecht but also in other university cities. Two years ago, the National Federation of Student Associations (LKvV), in collaboration with the 48 boards that it represents, drew up communal guidelines. And last year the LKvV held a conference devoted to this issue with the boards.
It emerges from a survey across eight large independent and university-linked associations, each having more than 1,000 members, and two smaller associations that rules of conduct and confidential counsellors are, for the most part, in place. HOP called the associations for clarification where necessary. In Groningen, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Leiden, Delft, and Maastricht, it turns out that boards have been working for several years on measures to combat inappropriate behaviour.
Associations that previously came into disrepute, such as Vindicat in Groningen, A.S.C./A.V.S.V. in Amsterdam and Tragos in Maastricht, have each updated their rules of conduct and now have rules that can be used as a basis for judging inappropriate behaviour. The other associations have similar rules of conduct.
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All the boards say that, as well as rules, they have internal confidential counsellors. These often are specially-trained student members. Not all associations have external confidential counsellors, which is to say people outside the association they can turn to. Where an association does have an external confidential counsellor, this is usually a former member with a background in mental healthcare. The two small associations do not have an external confidential counsellor. It is questionable whether members can always locate the confidential counsellors. Only three of the ten associations list the confidential counsellors and their contact details on their website.
Presentations and discussion groups about inappropriate behaviour during the introduction period are mentioned only a few times. At the Augustinus student association in Leiden a local police officer gives a training course about inappropriate behaviour and during the introduction period a Vindicat board member provides information about inappropriate behaviour and the importance of mutual consent for sex.
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Janna Willems of Amnesty International, which is currently conducting a campaign against sexual violence, is really pleased that student associations are taking action and supporting victims. But changing the rules of conduct alone is not enough. “It is then still likely that the rules will not be observed. There are lots of things a board can do to raise awareness of mutual consent and sexual violence.” She advocates training courses at which members learn to deal more effectively with situations involving inappropriate sexual behaviour and give better support to victims.
In the battle against the large number of rapes, Willems is campaigning for a sound new law on sexual offences, to be introduced in 2024. “Everyone who is a victim of rape deserves good protection under the law. The law must therefore put equality, voluntary participation and consent at the forefront. Only then can you be sure that victims of rape can do something about it.”