Sexual violence at the university

Content note: This blog post will address issues of sexual violence and assault.

Dear UvA Community,

You may have seen the recent findings from an Amnesty International report on Sexual Violence, which stated that one tenth of female students in the Netherlands are raped during their studies.  The study finds that 11% of students who identify as women and 1% of students who identify as men were raped during their studies. Folia also covered the report.

While many members of the institution and country are shocked by these numbers, we should remember that they are conform with the national statistics that Rutger’s presented in 2018: In the Netherlands, 53% of people who identify as women and 19% of people who identify as men experience sexual violence at least once in their lifetime (Rutgers, 2018). We also know from countless brave students who have come forward, that the situation at the university closely reflects the national situation.

I am not shocked by the report. Personal safety and security (sociale veiligheid in Dutch) is an inseparable part of inclusivity. Promoting equity, diversity and inclusivity must be done from an intersectional lens. If members of an organization do not feel safe, that organization cannot call itself inclusive. I am not shocked, but I am deeply troubled, ashamed and extremely frustrated by the state of personal safety and security at the UvA. When I began as CDO, this was my top priority because I felt the under-reporting of incidents signalled mistrust in the system. This has been confirmed by many respondents and the cases being covered by the press. In the past four years my team and I have researched and co-written reports about these issues. We have pushed hard, so hard in fact that some CDO team members have left because of the tough spot we are in. Despite being told that the issue of personal safety and security was being worked on, we pushed back and insisted that we at least be allowed to continue initiatives that were already up and running, namely the Our Bodies Our Voice (OBOV) workshops about consent and inclusive teaching and active bystanders, and CARE (psychologist-led support groups for victims-survivors  of sexual violence).

We issued a statement last summer that is on our blog. In it, we speak out for the need to support victims-survivors. There needs to not only be language of responsibility and accountability, but also concrete measures taken and a reset of the system so that perpetrators are punished and victims-survivors not made into the problem. As the CDO team, we believe there needs to be more monitoring and training concerning power relationships and a culture of consent. The Amnesty report also calls on people in leadership to take more responsibility for the safety of our students and colleagues.

Though headed in the right direction, the steps taken so far at the UvA are insufficient, the reports incomplete. In order to supplement these effors, I have worked behind the scenes, pushing for concrete measures proven to be effective in best practices by other universities. We are not the only ones seeking ways to better protect our staff and students from discrimination, racism, harassment and sexual violence, pushing for a change in culture where everyone takes responsibility for the safety of all members of our community. However, half measures in this regard can be even more dangerous by raising expectations and increasing trust, while victims-survivors are still at risk because the following measures have not been taken. Again, the following effective measures are based on best practices from other universities.

In addition to the incomplete policies in place at the UvA, next steps need to include the following:

  1. Clear and consistent communication about reporting:
    – All University stakeholders should be aware of student rights and what to expect from the university when there is a breach in policy;
    – All information (including the other points on this list) should be provided in a clear and accessible manner to everyone in the UvA community
    – There needs to be dissemination: students and staff need to know about this information and where to find it. So that means guidebooks, webpages, sharing on social media, etc.
  2. An anonymous reporting protocol;
  3. A clear and consistent policy regarding how perpetrators will be punished: for example, we do not accept this kind of behavior here, this is what you can expect from the university (student rights and university’s obligations) and what the university expects (students’ obligation to adhering to policy and acceptable behavior);
  4. A change in policy so that those who report incidents will be heard and cared for by means of, for example, a Discrimination Helpdesk;
  5. Mandatory training for those in authority in how to listen and respond to incidents of discrimination, racism, harassment and violence;
  6. A clear, consistent policy of supporting victims-survivors;
  7. A system of prevention, including Bystander Training for student leaders and staff, and Consent Culture Workshops for all incoming students;
  8. The impact of hierarchy on personal safety and security is investigated – building in better protections for victims-survivors;
  9. A consistent procedure for those who are accused when a report is made, for example, automatic non-active status and investigation;
  10. A screening policy around hiring academics and new employees with non-active or unresolved status from other universities.

We repeat the points here again in Dutch:

  1. Duidelijke en consistente informatie over het meldingsprotocol;
    – Alle informatie (ook de overige punten op deze lijst) dient voor iedereen in de UvA-gemeenschap duidelijk en toegankelijk te zijn;
    – Alle stakeholders van de universiteit moeten op de hoogte zijn van de rechten van studenten en wat er van de universiteit verwacht kan worden als er sprake is van een schending van het beleid;
    – Studenten en medewerkers moeten deze informatie kennen en daarnaast makkelijk kunnen vinden en delen. Dat betekent dat de informatie te vinden is in handleidingen, op webpagina’s, social media, et cetera.
  2. Een anoniem meldingsprotocol;
  3. Een consistent beleid om daders te bestraffen: bijvoorbeeld welk gedrag niet wordt geaccepteerd, wat van de universiteit verwacht mag worden (rechten van studenten en plichten van de universiteit) en wat de universiteit verwacht van studenten (zich houden aan beleid en acceptabel gedrag);
  4. Een wijziging van het beleid zodat degenen die incidenten melden, gehoord en geholpen worden door bijvoorbeeld een Helpdesk Discriminatie;
  5. Verplichte training voor leidinggevenden in het luisteren naar en reageren op incidenten van discriminatie, racisme, intimidatie, en geweld;
  6. Een duidelijk, consistent beleid om slachtoffers te ondersteunen en nazorg te bieden;
  7. Een preventiesysteem, inclusief bystanderstraining voor studentenbegeleiders en personeel en consent cultuur workshops, voor alle inkomende studenten; 
  8. De machtsstructuren van de academische gemeenschap van de UvA en de impact hiervan op sociale veiligheid worden onderzocht om betere bescherming voor slachtoffers te bieden;
  9. Een duidelijk protocol voor verdachten wanneer er een melding wordt gedaan; bijvoorbeeld onderzoek en op non-actief zetten;
  10. Een screeningsprotocol voor het aannemen van academici en nieuwe medewerkers die op non-actief zijn gesteld of een lopend onderzoek tegen zich hebben van andere onderwijsinstellingen.

In addition, workshops about consent should continue to be provided to student associations (a practice already underway and sponsored by the CDO team).

The challenge is that so much of what the CDO team promotes remains optional. I call, yet again, on those with policy-making authority to make all ten of the above-mentioned clear, sustainable changes. I call on the Executive Board and deans, the regiegroep sociale veiligheid, UvA leadership teams, the COR and the CSR to push for all ten of the above-mentioned points, so that half measures do not give the illusion of safety.

I want to reflect that in the CDO team we firmly believe in centering victims-survivors because, as we know from practice, too often victims-survivors are made into the problem. We stress again support for programmes like CARE (a support group for victims-survivors of sexual violence, sponsored by the CDO team). All leadership teams at the UvA need to take a workshop with our partners Our Bodies Our Voice and Beyond Equality. More information can be found on the CDO workshop menu.  

I also want to take space here to reflect and be mindful of the voices we have not heard. Here we include additional intersectional statistics for the Netherlands (Rutgers, 2018):

  • 15% of gay men and 23% of lesbian women, and 21% of trans women and 35% of trans men, have experienced sexual violence (penetration or forced masturbation) at least once;
  • 72% of women and 44% of men with a functional disability have experienced sexual violence, and 49% of women and 22% of men with a physical disability have experienced sexual violence.

I am not shocked; I am angry. I have spent four years pushing for a university that continues to grow in awareness and cultural change. It is absolutely crucial that the half measures we have in place be supplemented with the ten points mentioned above, so that a full reset of our university culture takes place. Only then can we say we are doing our best to protect the members of our community.

—Anne de Graaf, Chief Diversity Officer, UvA

Help-seeking resources

If you have experienced sexual violence, and/or are still in danger, please reach out to one of the institutions listed below that corresponds to the problem you are facing. You are not alone.  In their report, Amnesty International calls on institutions of higher education to take on more responsibility for the safety and well-being of their students. The survey also reported that 60% of students did not know where to turn to.

  • Police: Emergency:  112 / Non-emergent: 0900 8844;
  • Overall information on help seeking within the UvA can be found here: uva.nl/socialsafety;
  • CARE is a support group for victims-survivors of sexual violence. It aims to create a safer space and a community for the people involved. CARE is sponsored by the CDO team;
  • On the CDO’s blog: Help-seeking resources;
  • For an extensive overview of available support and (health) services in Amsterdam for LGBTQIA+ refugees and undocumented/illegalized people: Check out the COC Amsterdam’s list.
  • Sexual Assault Center (CSG): (Hotline: 0800-0188) and for Amsterdam-specific information or  information in English.
    • In the week of 21 June, Gemeente Amsterdam together with the Center for Sexual Violence Amsterdam-Amstelland and the GGD, are organizing the theme week “Sexual violence affects us all.”  The entire programme can be found at: www.amsterdam.nl/tegenseksueelgeweld;
  • Join the Amnesty Netherlands #LetsTalkAboutYES campaign. They are looking for activist leaders in several provinces.

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