Addressing sexual safety at INKOM 2023
During last week's INKOM, attention was paid to the social safety of students, especially the sexual aspect of dealing with each other. Like other universities, UM is committed to ensuring a socially safe environment for all students. "The focus is on prevention, education and support," says sexual safety programme manager Joyce Grul. "It's important to keep the topic under the spotlight."
During the induction week, flyers were distributed and there was a stand with information on sexually transgressive behaviour. There is an increasing need for this as many young people are confronted with undesirable behaviour of a sexual nature. During their studies, one in four students encounters excesses, ranging from intimidation to sexual assault and rape. That percentage is above average.
For this reason, Maastricht University launched its Sexual Safety Programme in March 2023. The implementation coincided with the start of the new academic year. Joyce Grul is the programme's manager. She is satisfied with the way the topic was highlighted during INKOM.
Sexual Safety Programme Manager Joyce Grul at the INKOM
"We chose to hand the flyer to the new students personally. So it wouldn't be tucked away in the bag amid the other flyers they receive; it was offered to each student with proper attention. That way, we could see their reactions, too. They ranged from a short thank-you to 'Yes, I know' or 'Oh dear, here we go again'". There was more elaborate feedback at the information market, with students saying they were very happy that the university was giving the issue the attention it deserves.
These initial reactions are understandable, says Joyce, as there is always a special atmosphere at the INKOM. "You feel the excitement and enthusiasm among the young students. And you know that sexual safety is not the first thing they think about during the introduction days." Still, sexually transgressive behaviour is more common during the introduction week. "With the flyers in their hands, they have been made aware of the topic. From the students we spoke to later in the week, we know at least something has stuck."
The website shows the way
The sexual safety website launched prior to INKOM also proved its worth. It lists the organisations where people can seek help. The Sexual Violence Centre is one of them. The website was used to contact the centre. People also found their way to the coordinator of the new Social Safety Team. That is where the first report about sexual transgressive behaviour came in during the INKOM.
"Every incident is one too many, but we are there for every report. If you want to talk or need support, UM is there for you," says Joyce. "Research has shown that many people who experience sexually transgressive behaviour do not tell others. Some tell those around them and even a smaller number go to an authority."
According to Joyce, it is important to keep the topic under the spotlight so that people can continue to talk about it and victims/survivors can get the support they need. For this reason, several activities are planned in the coming period as part of the Sexual Safety Programme.
A special lecture on the topic will be held during the faculty introduction days this week. Afterwards, flyers will be distributed. On 15 September, Mariëtte Hamer, the government commissioner for sexual transgressive behaviour and sexual violence, will come to UM to talk to staff and students.
A theatre performance will be organised on 6 and 7 November, and workshops and training sessions will also be offered from autumn onwards. "In this way, the topic will remain under the spotlight. This fulfils the need to do more in terms of education and support when it comes to sexual safety."
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