Defending human rights: Let's Talk About YES campaign

One in ten female Dutch students experience rape during their time as students. It also affects 1 per cent of men. These are the results of a study commissioned by Amnesty International in 2021. Together with students, Amnesty took action. And achieved results. A number of universities and universities of applied sciences, including THUAS, signed a manifesto against sexual violence: “Let's Talk About YES”. Students Charlotte Le Faucheur, Roy Peters and Thien Ta acted at THUAS and lobbied for the signing of this manifesto. “The signature on the manifesto is a good first step. Now THUAS must really get to work and fulfil its ambitions.”

“We must be aware that sexual violence, in whatever form, is not acceptable. So we don't think it's normal and we hold each other accountable,” says Thien. She experienced sexual violence herself. “It’s very difficult to deal with that. You feel helpless; you lose control over your life. This feeling of powerlessness is one of the reasons I took action and signed up to work with Amnesty on the ‘Let's Talk About YES’ campaign. This way I can make my voice heard and help other victims. I no longer feel like a victim, but a survivor, a fighter.” Amnesty is conducting this campaign to ensure that the norm in the Netherlands is that sex is based on equality, voluntariness and mutual consent. Amnesty also calls for a new law on rape. A law that calls sex without mutual consent rape and criminalises it as such.

School as safe space

“Sexual violence affects a large part of your life. So also your studies,” says Thien. “That is why it’s important to be able to talk about it at school. It should be a normal topic to talk about. This also makes it easier for victims to share their stories. We would like THUAS to provide good and accessible help for victims. With the right support, trauma can be greatly reduced.” Many students do not know yet who they can turn to. “That's one of the things we want to change,” says Charlotte. “We want school to be a safe space. A place where you can go when you need help, a place where you are listened to. For example, a good relationship between mentor and student is very important.”

Determined to change

With all the attention surrounding the scandal on The Voice, following the investigation of the BOOS broadcast in January this year, dealing with sexual violence is high on the social agenda. “Of course, it is not something new. In fact, this broadcast confirmed what we had known for a long time,” says Roy. Together with other Amnesty activists, he led a three-day campaign at THUAS in September 2021. “We spoke to many students and teachers. Many people said that they had experienced sexual abuse or knew someone who had. The general reaction was mainly recognition of the problem and determination to change. There were also emotional moments when people really exposed themselves and shared their personal stories.” In a second week of action, a survey was conducted. It showed that students need support, policy change and workshops to counter sexual violence, at home, at school or elsewhere.

Manifesto

The Amnesty activists have discussed the manifesto with the Executive Board several times since the action in September 2021. It was signed this year on 8 March, the International Women's Day. “It’s a great start,” say Charlotte, Roy and Thien. “By signing the manifesto, THUAS promises to tackle sexual violence by implementing better prevention and support measures. For example, there must be good assistance and a good complaints procedure in place. Workshops and training sessions are also needed for students and teachers to be able to talk to each other about this subject.” Amnesty activists give THUAS feedback on plans to implement the goals in the manifesto. “We want everyone at THUAS to be confident that if you are a victim of sexual violence, you will get adequate help.”


Rape and human rights

Rape is a violation of human rights. The perpetrators often go unpunished. If there are no signs of coercion, you have not been raped according to Dutch law. Victims, their advocacy groups and human rights organisations believe that the law must change. They are widely supported: 76 per cent of Dutch people think that sex without mutual consent, where no coercion or force is used, is rape. No opposition does not mean consent. In 70 per cent of rapes, the victim is unable to resist because the person literally freezes with fear. This is a normal survival reaction. Rape victims deserve recognition and better legal protection. Meanwhile, a bill has been prepared stating that you are punishable if you have sexual contact with someone against their will.  The Council of State issued a positive opinion on the bill in mid-June 2022. With this, the law can be submitted to the Lower and Upper Houses of Parliament.

Unwanted behaviour? Don’t keep it to yourself!

Within your work or degree programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences, you may encounter unwanted behaviour. These include (sexual) harassment, abuse of power, bullying or aggression and violence. Can't work it out yourself and need help or advice? Don’t hesitate and make an appointment with the confidential advisor. More information about this can be found on Staff Portal and Student Portal. Search for: Confidential Advisors or view this infographic.

Want to take action too?

  • Do you also want to act against sexual harassment and sexual violence? Join Amnesty team or contact Charlotte, Roy and Thien onInstagram.
  • On the Amnesty website you will find information if you want to act against the violation of human rights. You can also sign up as a volunteer.

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Previously published in the Faith in Human Rights series of articles

About Faith in Human Rights

The Global and Inclusive Learning (GIL) centre of expertise works together with the organisation Initiatives of Change (iofc.nl) on the programme 'Faith in Human Rights' in which students and staff members work with human rights themes. In this way, we are working towards celebrating 75 years of human rights in 2023. On 8 December 2022, THUAS will host the festival Faith in Human Rights, for and by students and staff members of THUAS.