Let's Talk About Yes: an update

In November 2021, UM signed Amnesty International's manifesto Let's Talk About Yes. That was the go-ahead for UM to intensify activities against sexual violence. What has happened since then and what developments have taken place within UM's various departments to address this important issue? And what still needs to be done? This was what UM employees and students, as well as external partners, talked about in April 2023 during the conference Let's Talk About Yes, organised by the UM Diversity & Inclusivity Office.

The fact that attention to sexually transgressive behaviour remains badly needed was demonstrated once again by the lecture of keynote speaker Prof. Dr. Conny Rijken, National Rapporteur on trafficking in human beings and sexual abuse of children. Indeed, research shows that 50% of women and 20% of men experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. 46% of all perpetrators are acquaintances of the victim. 56% of men and 25% of women never speak about this experience. UM's own research showed that 9.8% of UM students surveyed have experienced sexual violence (in the form of penetration without consent). 46.9% of UM students experienced at least one incident of sexual violence and/or sexually transgressive behaviour since the beginning of their studies. More than half of the students knew the perpetrator from UM. Almost three-quarters of those who have experienced any form of sexual violence experience negative consequences. An intensive approach within UM proved to be a must.

Sexual Safety

Joyce Grul, sexual safety programme manager at UM, spoke about the steps already taken and further developments: "We want to create a safer learning and working environment free of sexually transgressive behaviour for students and employees. This requires respectful behaviour and the development of sexual safety knowledge and skills. To achieve this, we will facilitate open conversations, create awareness of the problem and activate our community to work together to improve the situation. We will take preventive actions against sexually transgressive behaviour by offering information and training, both to students and staff. And provide proper support, both formal and informal, to victims/survivors of sexual transgressive behaviour." Are concrete measures already noticeable? "Yes indeed," says Grul, "Students in the coming academic year will undergo mandatory training on this topic. UM staff who support students will receive special training in this area, think of confidential advisers, student advisers, etc. There will also be a Social Safety Point where students can go for informal and formal help with experiences of (sexually) transgressive behaviour. Furthermore, clear procedures will be developed and there will be a specific page on the UM website. From the INKOM onwards, we will campaign. We are developing a sustainable programme in which students will be intensively involved."
 

I was happily surprised with the content of the conference, especially with the very good workshop in which I took part: Peer-to-peer disclosure. And exactly because that was about peer-to-peer disclosure, I would very much like that knowledge to be made accessible to all students. It is good to see that the university is starting to listen to our concerns and taking them to heart. I am always a bit concerned that activities like these are more for the image of UM, but when I spoke to some staff members, I was really impressed by how incredibly well their knowledge is targeted to us.

My main wish is to see more students involved in the process and that events like these are made accessible to all students. Now, too few of us are involved in the process. When we talk to students about what we at Feminists of Maastricht do, they are all very interested and concerned about the role of the university when it comes to sexual harassment and sexual violence in their lives. And very importantly, survivors of sexual harassment or sexual violence know very well what they need, so my advice would be that the university speaks with them. Overall, the conference was a positive experience and I hope events and activities like these will continue to be presented, hopefully to all students.
 

Elena Cassina, Student at University College Maastricht and Board member of Feminists of Maastricht (FOM)

The Let’s Talk About Yes campaign

Amnesty is campaigning in the Netherlands to start a conversation on consent, raise awareness about ongoing concerns regarding the Dutch rape law, and engage with higher education institutions regarding prevention of sexual violence. Since 2021, the Let´s Talk About Yes (LTAY) team at Maastricht University has engaged in conversations with UM to improve survivor support and prevention of sexual violence, starting with the signing of the LTAY manifesto. This happened at the last conference on sexual violence organized by the Diversity & Inclusivity Office in Fall 2021. More than one year after UM made this commitment the LTAY team is happy to see that a social safety team has been created to specifically address sexually transgressive behaviour and that progress had been made toward fulfilling many of the promises made at the last conference. Providing the incoming students this fall with introductory information is an important first step towards sexual violence prevention and the team hopes to see many more steps taken in coming months and years.

Amnesty is also campaigning nationally for a new rape law – a law that is based on consent. Currently, sex without consent is not considered rape under Dutch law. Instead, rape is defined by the use of coercion or force, which does not only make it very difficult for survivors to provide sufficient evidence, but also goes against the Istanbul convention. The Istanbul convention is a human rights treaty, signed and ratified by the Netherlands, which calls for a consent-based definition of rape, and research shows why. The report Amnesty published on sexual violence at higher education institutions in the Netherlands found that 70% of victims freeze when experiencing sexual assault. This means that they often do not have defensive wounds that would prove that the perpetrator used force, and coercion is notoriously difficult to prove. The new law will be discussed by the government at the end of May and is planned to enter into force in 2024.

LTAY

With the signing of the Amnesty Manifesto 'Let's Talk about Yes' in November 2021, we started strengthening our policy on sexually transgressive behaviour. Over the past year, our students have kept us on track. Every time we progressed too slowly, they held up a mirror to us and got us back in action. But it was not only our students who were active: all our staff also worked continuously to improve our policies and support.  

Prof Rianne Letschert, President of the Executive Board

Developments at the Student Services Centre

Much has also been done at the UM Student Services Centre to improve its approach to sexually transgressive behaviour. Nadine Chudy, project coordinator Student Welfare:  "Since March 2022, we have been offering social safety training to study and student associations in collaboration with the Sex Matters Foundation. The scope in our offer is broader than sexually transgressive behaviour and focuses on social safety. The offer originated partly from demand from associations. In late 2021/early 2022, input was gathered from associations on the themes for which they needed support. A number of associations then indicated they would like to work on social safety. We delivered 14 workshops on social safety to boards and confidential advisors of associations. More than 200 students from 54 different associations participated. Together with the Municipality of Maastricht, we provide Safer Clubbing workshops. In this way, we also want to ensure a safer climate within the associations."

I am extremely pleased with the newly developed programme against sexually transgressive behaviour. This programme is an important step towards a safe working and learning environment, in which everyone can flourish and grow.  

- Margriet Schreuders, Director Student Services Centre

Sports and social safety

On the initiative of the student sports associations, UM Sports and Sports Council MUSST have drafted a Code of Conduct, which is currently being reviewed by UM's Legal Affairs Department. Rosanne Vosters, chair of Sports Council MUSST: "The reason for this Code of Conduct is that student sports associations and UM Sport also have a social aspect. This involves drinking, mixing of different groups, trainers and athletes all attending, and possibly blurred lines. When transgressive behaviour has taken place, victims often do not know where to turn for support. Therefore, together with the board members and confidential contact persons of the student sports associations, we have drawn up guidelines for respectful behaviour within the associations and UM Sport. MUSST includes 31 associations with more than 3,000 members. More than a quarter of all UM students are members of UM Sport, and every day 800 to 1,000 students can be found in the University Sports Centre (USC). So, this is a very large group. We expect to offer the Code of Conduct for signature to student sports associations in April, and to all UM SPORT members and staff at the beginning of the new academic year. Everything is in line with the NOC*NSF Sports Code of Conduct. We are going to make sure that in the USC it is visible where to go for support and we will offer UM Sport staff training and information on the guidelines. At UM Sport, Ivanka Smitsmans is the contact person for the Code of Conduct."

LTAY

Social Safety Team

Since June 2022, UM has had a Social Safety team to help increase social safety. Katinka Bastin, confidential advisor within this team, tells more about their approach: "We deal with reports through individual intakes and give tailor-made advice, also to managers and supervisors. We monitor and report and contribute to raising awareness around social safety. This is done by advising and informing teams and managers, for example by giving presentations and workshops. We have been involved in bringing in-house the (mandatory) training courses for managers that will be offered by the Leadership Academy. Our team consists of a Concerns & Complaints Point coordinator, an ombudsperson and two confidential advisors. The coordinator and ombudsperson are independent and impartial. We confidential advisors always stand alongside the employee who confidentially files a complaint. Also important to mention is that the employee always remains in charge and we first investigate whether a problem can be solved small and informally or that submitting a formal complaint to the complaints committee does more justice to the person who filed the complaint. So our roles are different. But with all of us, confidentiality is guaranteed."

For which issues can you turn to the Social Safety Team? "In cases of undesirable behaviour, such as bullying, (sexually) transgressive behaviour, aggression and violence or discrimination. But also with conflicts in the workplace, the inability to work with someone and conflicts between managers and employees. Think also of integrity violations, such as theft, fraud, conflicts of interest and bribery. Our scope of work is thus very broad."

By: Margot Krijnen

Workshop peer-to-peer disclosure

In this interactive lecture, we delved into the significance of peer-to-peer disclosure and effective ways to support survivors of sexual violence. According to research, survivors of sexual violence tend to disclose their experiences to their peers. The session explored the reasons why disclosing such experiences can be intimidating and the different types of social reactions that can ensue. Some guidance was offered on how to prevent victim blaming and provide information about resources available at UM and externally. I hope students took away from the lecture how they can play a crucial role in creating a supportive and empathetic community.  

- Dr. Gesa Lange, Student counselor at University College Maastricht

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