Leiden University signs Amnesty manifesto against sexual violence
Leiden University signed the Amnesty International ‘Let’s talk about YES’ manifesto on 10 March, confirming the university’s commitment to preventing sexual violence. Steps will also be taken to make sure that everyone within the university feels responsible for a culture in which sex is based on equality and consent.
During the meeting, Rector Hester Bijl reflected on the shocking number of students who at some point experience sexual violence. ‘As a university, we have to play a role in preventing sexual behaviour that is unacceptable. There is no place for sexual activity without consent. There is no place for sexual intimidation. Sexual violence simply will not be tolerated.’
Bijl praised the students who are calling for attention to be paid to this issue and opening the subject for discussion. ‘We are working on an action plan to combat sexual violence and will be doing more to tackle unacceptable behaviour. We recognise that we need input from the student community if we are going to achieve this.’ Creating a safe environment for everyone is something the university intends to work towards together with students and staff.
The Amnesty activists present, mainly students, stressed the need for the manifesto. Research commissioned by the human rights organisation has shown that 64 per cent of Dutch students do not know where to report sexual violence within their educational institution. No fewer than 11 per cent of female students experience rape during their student years. For male students, this is 1 per cent
During the meeting, Jasper Bitter, policy officer at Student and Educational Affairs, announced a number of actions that the university will be taking to combat sexual violence and improve communication on this issue. Bitter: ‘We will be using a number of different approaches to raise awareness about consent and sexual violence.’ A web page will be published with information about unacceptable sexual behaviour and where students can apply for support and assistance.
The university will be working with Our Bodies Our Voice to organise workshops for students and student organisations, and efforts will be made to promote expertise and awareness among staff. Together with the regional department of Victim Support Netherlands, support groups will be organised for students who have suffered sexual violence. With a poster campaign and a theatre performance by students, the university is aiming to raise awareness and open up the discussion on this issue. A feedback group is helping to identify those areas where students need support and to improve the plans further. Bitter: ‘It takes several years to achieve a change of culture. By signing the manifesto, we have taken an important step in the right direction.’