1 in 10 women and 1 in 100 of men studying at Dutch universities have been raped, according to a recent study by Amnesty International. Whilst the sheer numbers are horrifying to us, the dark truth is that these people are not just statistics: we have deeply painful, lived experiences.
I was first raped at the age of seven. This continued for years. I was raped so many times that by the time I was eight I’d lost count. In the summer of 2020, I was sexually assaulted on Leiden University campus. For me and many fellow survivors, our daily lives are affected by the scars of these lived experiences for many years to follow. Mundane, simple things like riding a bike, washing myself in the shower and having friends hug me unexpectedly often trigger panic attacks and flashbacks.
Plenty of research shows that survivors are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts and depression – amongst other mental health issues – following a rape or assault. Rainn outlays that 94% of women experience PTSD symptoms in the two weeks after rape; 33% contemplate suicide; theyare significantly more likely to abuse drugs; and approximately 70% of survivors experience moderate to severe distress – a larger percentage than for any other violent crime. This is not to mention the plethora of emotional issues, including problems with family, friends and intimate relationships. And, it’s not just women who can be victims of sexual assaults and rape – one in ten rape victims are male.
Yet, despite the battle their students are facing, Leiden University offers very little support for survivors of sexual assault/rape. The only resource targeted toward survivors – a survivor support group called CARE – was recently defunded by Leiden University. This has been heartwrenching for many survivors: yet again, we are being pushed to the margins of society and left to suffer in silence. Consequently, I decided to write an open letter to LU urging them to fund CARE as well as provide more means for survivors to get the help we need which go beyond the current, insufficient channels for help.
I found the courage to speak out because I was sick of being silenced for so many years, and because, thanks to the support I found at CARE, I finally felt empowered to stand up for survivors’ needs.
But, it’s been nearly two months since I first published my letter; the petition to re-fund the group has 4749 signatures; I have since appeared in the press – thanks to the Leidsch Dagblad – and the Diversity Office has posted about the importance of supporting survivors at LU. But CARE has still not been refunded. I’ve received only one email from the Diversity Office saying that supporting survivors is important. And when asked for an explanation of what this actually means and what concrete, tangible steps LU is going to take to do this – all I received was more silence.
From one Leiden University student to another, I’m urging you to speak up about this issue for survivors. The chances are, one of your friends at uni is a survivor – the community is much bigger than anyone would like it to be. Please sign the petition to show LU that survivors have the student community’s support, follow the @a.survivor.at.leiden Instagram page, and start conversations with your peers about the issues of SA and rape on campus and what you can all do to help prevent it and support survivors.
Finally, to my fellow survivors: I believe you, and I hear you. You deserve the help and support you need. I will keep fighting for us to get the support we need.
Thank you for reading,
A Survivor at Leiden
@a.survivor.at.leiden The open letter and petition to the University can be found here.
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Image from Leidsch Dagblad