Amnesty manifesto against sexual assault still struggling to collect signatures

The Sexual Assault Centre talks to students at UIT, the introduction week. Photo: DUB

Since August 2021, Amnesty has been asking higher education institutions in the Netherlands to sign a manifesto against sexual assault among students. The initiative follows a survey carried out by the human rights organisation, which revealed that rape is a relatively frequent occurrence among students. In addition, most victims don't know where to go for help at their institution.

Recent surveys by the National Student Association and the Education Inspectorate confirm that victims of sexual abuse and inappropriate behaviour often do not report the matter, so problems tend to remain off the radar.

Workshops and training courses
The manifesto contains six action points. The signatories commit themselves to organising workshops for students, such as bystander training. They also commit to training the staff so that they're more "trauma-sensitive" with regard to issues like sexual assault. The universities also vow to improve their complaints procedure. 

Last year, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam was the first one to sign it, but since then only nine institutions have followed. Utrecht University decided not to sign the manifesto, coming up with its own action plan instead. The Delft University of Technology has not signed it because it does not see any significant benefit from organising workshops for all its students. That’s a pity, in the view of Janna Willems, an Amnesty campaigner.

Have the six action points set the bar been set too high for the institutions?
“We get questions like that from the institutions but most of them understand the need for this type of workshop. We certainly don’t expect everything to have been settled at the time of signature. It’s only afterwards that we go ahead with the implementation and we can help them with that as well.”

Why have so few institutions signed the manifesto?
“We expect another 10 institutions to sign in a few weeks. Then, the total will be 20. What is happening isn’t negative: many institutions want to draw up an action plan before signing. So it takes a bit longer, but then they can demonstrate what they are planning to do.”

Isn’t that what the action points in the manifesto are for?
“The action points serve as a kind of basis. We are encouraging the institutions to do even more. As an example, the HAN University of Applied Sciences did so this week with the ‘Wheel of Student Wellbeing’, and Maastricht University combined its signing ceremony with a conference. These institutions put a lot of thought and effort into things before signing the manifesto, which we see as something very positive.”

So it's not a matter of lack of eagerness?
“The institutions certainly feel a sense of urgency, especially following the surveys published lately. They’re getting to grips with it and we have the feeling that the issue is being taken seriously. But we also feel that the time is ripe for more signatures because they have had plenty of time to think things through. It’s an important signal for students and the outside world, so we hope that all the institutions will join in before the next academic year.”

Are you a victim of sexual assault or inappropriate behaviour? Utrecht University has a confidential advisor to whom you can report the issue. You can also turn to the Sexual Assault Centre. You can either call 0800-0188 or chat with them online. Both services are free and anonymous.