One of our PISSWIFE members is in San Fransisco on a 5 month exchange at the moment. While Tessel is studying at San Francisco State University, she is contributing to the university’s exchange council blog, and she continues to write for PISSWIFE from overseas.
Last week all students at San Francisco State received an email about a mandatory online course about sexual harassment among students. The course is called “Think About It”, and as I wrote in my blog, the course contains a video of Title IX officer Luo Luo Hong, who “encourages all students to actively participate in ending sexual violence, instead of just taking the easy way out and feeling like the problem has nothing to do with you.” I found this last comment very striking as my
experience on the University of Amsterdam had been much like the latter: I never received any information from the UvA about sexual harassment among students and I wouldn’t know where to go if a fellow student assaulted me. I feel like my university has taken the position that Hong described in the video: the problem is not their responsibility. After doing a little bit of research, I found the UvA’s policy for undesirable behavior: their initial suggestion in the case of unwanted behavior is to try and work it out by yourself. If this doesn’t work, you could turn to a counselor. There is no information on the UvA website on sexual harassment specifically. These resources are beyond insufficient, and especially in comparison to my experience here at SF State: things could definitely be better!
A little background info: Title IX is a statute in the Education Amendments. It states that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Consequently, San Fransisco State University has compiled a number of articles and exercises to prevent sexual assault, domestic abuse and toxic relationships among the students of SFSU and to strive towards equality between the sexes in both the academic and the private sphere.
Why is there such a major difference between SFSU and my university back in Amsterdam when it comes to sexual harassment prevention? It seems the Dutch law has a rather laid-back attitude towards rape culture and the issues it carries along: rape is only considered rape when the victim’s body is penetrated without consent and under coercion by a threat of violence. However, most cases of rape do not involve direct violence, as was stated in ‘Seksuele Gezondheid 2012’ by Rutgers WPF. In cases where the victim was blacked out or too drunk, the government considers this a grey area and does not protect victims sufficiently. This governmental attitude does not make any sense when we look at the statistics of sexual harassment in the Netherlands. According to Centrum Seksueel Geweld, 1 out of 8 women has to deal with being raped at least once in her life. 1 out of 25 men get raped once in their life, and the chances an individual gets raped multiplies by four when the person is aged 12 to 24 years old. When students fall perfectly within this age category, and the Dutch law is obviously lacking, why does the UvA not step in? As an organization that is made specifically for education, it is striking that there is so little education on one of the most vital and potentially most dangerous aspects of student life. A lot of students have no clue about what consent is, how they can make sure they’re not crossing boundaries, and how to avoid falling into patterns of victim blaming. As I have previously argued, Dutch sexual education has to improve, and learning about sexual boundaries and consent needs to be a part of this.
On our Instagram page, we put up a few polls to see how our Dutch followers felt about their sexual harassment education. Only 8% of the University students who responded to our poll were given information on how to prevent sexual assault at their university. The thoroughness or quality of this information remains unknown. Only 3% of the university students had ever heard of “victim blaming” on their university, and only 7 of the responding followers said they knew where they were supposed to go if they ever experienced sexual assault by a fellow student. Other responses included: “the school definitely hasn’t advised about this, I only know there’s a psychologist at school.” and “not at the university… Maybe the study advisor?” On our Instagram we proceeded to ask our followers what extra information or services they would find useful to receive from their university. These were some of the responses:
I reached out to my friends back at home in the Netherlands, and asked them for their opinions:
“During my time here I have not once been introduced to the subject of sexual harassment. It feels like schools nowadays simply figure all students have the ability to educate themselves on the subject, and therefore don’t need any further education. I consider it to be of major importance for our generation to be guaranteed of proper education and counseling, when it comes to harassment and sex ed in general.
In this day and age, where it’s still disappointingly common to be groped, catcalled and raped, awareness needs to be raised among young adults. Among victims, so they’ll know there’s help. Among students, both male and female, so they’ll be confronted with a still existing issue in our society. Schools should implement this type of information in their teachings to not only provide help for victims, but to prevent these events from happening as well.
It’s a scary world for people who just started living their adult life. Living on their own in a different town, starting a new life and basically losing the parental protection they’ve probably lived with their entire lives. It’s important for us to keep each other safe. Therefore awareness and education should be provided at all costs. Knowledge is key and all schools should be providing this.”
– Alicia Martirosjan, 18 years old, student at InHolland Rotterdam
Our aim is to put this topic up for public debate. We ought to get rid of the taboos: sexual harassment and rape culture are still-existing problems that our society faces every day. Something has to change: pretending that sexual relationships are naturally healthy and shouldn’t be discussed outside of the private sphere is a toxic practice. We are here to change the educational structure of sexual education because the information that is currently provided for students is simply insufficient. It’s of major importance for us to help victims after a crime like this, but it’s even more important for us to prevent these events from happening in the first place. We can start doing that by providing the necessary information: schools need to provide informative courses to offer help to victims, but also to confront students with their own behavior, or with behavior that they might experience in their surroundings. People often simply aren’t aware of the way their actions can be perceived. Therefore it ought to be a priority to inform people of all genders the best we can in order to will create a sense of awareness and consciousness on both sides. Awareness that consent is not an option, but a requirement, that there should always be a conscious will on both sides, and that saying “NO” five times and “yes” once, is still no consent. It’s a matter of relearning the means of sexual intimacy in a respectful manner between two parties. This is our motion for change. We believe it’s necessary for schools to implement a course in their educational structure, for each student to partake in. This course should include helplines, people to reach out to, but also the simplest form of explaining the terms “consent”, “boundaries”, “victim blaming”. KNOWLEDGE = KEY. Schools have to teach young adults about red flags, about abusive relationships and about getting out of them.
At the moment, ASAP and Emancipator are working on a project called “Our Bodies, Our Voice” which is trying to get courses about sexual harassment prevention and healthy relationship to be taught at the University of Amsterdam. Tessel from PISSWIFE is in contact with Agathe, an UvA student and the internal coördinator or the project, to share her knowledge about what an online course could look like and what she learned from “Think About It” here at SFSU. The project is currently in the process of pitching the workshops (+ budget) to 3 different study programs at the UvA. Right now, finalizing the courses and getting the UvA to accept this initiative are the next steps on the agenda. Stay tuned for updates if you agree that this issue deserves a solution!
Text: Alicia Martirosjan & Tessel ten Zweege