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Joking about someone’s sexual orientation, sending dickpics or wolf-whistling on the street. Where do TU Delft students draw the line?

Lees in het Nederlands

At the end of June, Delta published the outcomes of a survey into transgressive behaviour experienced by TU Delft students. Two of every three students said they had experienced sexually transgressive behaviour since they started studying at TU Delft. But each person sets their own limit. What one student will tolerate is over the line for another. How do TU Delft students define transgressive behaviour?

  • There are many ways of exceeding another person’s sexual boundaries. That can happen digitally, for example messages with sexual overtones on social media or inappropriate images like dickpics. Or verbally: for example, catcalling (jokes with sexual overtones or comments about someone’s sexual preference or appearance). Many students have also experienced physical sexually transgressive behaviour. For example, being touched or kissed although the approach was unwanted, such as when going out. But rape also occurs.

Almost all (99%) of the students who completed the survey considered penetration without consent as transgressive. The same percentage applied to oral sex. 98% of the respondents considered unwanted kissing and touching (96%) not to be OK. For 96% of the students, deliberate touching of the buttock, breast or crotch in the pub was unacceptable, and 35% of the students felt that making comments about someone’s body, appearance or sexual activities was transgressive. 

The differences between what people experienced as transgressive behaviour can be strikingly large in some cases. For example, 66% of the male students found repeated jokes, comments or anecdotes with sexual overtones to be inappropriate, in contrast to 81% of the female students.

“A young man wore socks displaying different kinds of breasts. A fellow student – with whom I was discussing only study-related topics – asked me if I wanted to point out what my breasts looked like,” one female student gave as an example. She is studying Aerospace Engineering, a programme in which the majority of the students is male. “At that time I was one of the few women in the room. And it didn’t stop with one comment. ‘You haven’t yet said which ones were yours,’ he repeated when we were standing outside later. I laughed it off at the time. It is an easy response, I didn’t dare say anything. But what if it had been the other way around? If the socks depicted penises and I had asked him to point out the one resembling his, how would he have felt?”

Double standards
Karlijn de Blécourt, expert in Gender and Prevention of Sexual Violence at Rutgers, sexuality expertise centre, recognises the picture. “In our modern-day society, a double standard exists: if a man has sex, he gains something; if a woman has sex, she loses something.”

‘Current perspective on sexual relations is a stranglehold’

“Men are less likely to label their own behaviour towards women as transgressive than vice versa. It is therefore important to agree with each other what is OK and what is not.” According to Blécourt, many men describe perpetrators of transgressive behaviour as perverse, grey, old men. “But a hand on a buttock or a joke with sexual overtones are forms of sexually transgressive behaviour that many young men display.”

That conclusion was also drawn from the survey. Students receive transgressive messages that they have not asked for. “In large WhatsApp groups many memes (a kind of online cartoon, Ed.) are sent,” explained a female student. “Including ones with sexual overtones. I do not respond to those messages because I am in the minority, what would they think?”

Men are in a difficult situation in that respect, in Blécourt’s opinion. She defines the current perspective on sexual relations as ‘a stranglehold’. “Most young men favour modern values like equality, respect and being able to be yourself, but they continue to be stuck in persistent stereotypical gender roles that encourage them to hunt and act out macho behaviour. But they really want to have a nice relationship.”

Where can you turn to for help?

  • Have you suffered an unwanted sexual experience and want to talk about it? At Centrum Seksueel Geweld [Sexual Violence Centre] specialists are waiting to help you. You can chat online or call them anonymously free of charge (0800-0188).
  • It can be comforting to talk to the people around you. For example, your friends or a confidential advisor of your study association.
  • TU Delft also offers support. Your first point of contact is always your academic counsellor.
  • If you want, s/he can put you in touch with the Safety and Security Department. They support students with making a police report if you have been a victim of sexually transgressive behaviour.
  • The academic counsellor can refer you to the university psychologists. They offer short-term support involving a maximum of three sessions. If longer-term help is needed, they can refer you to the general physician or a psychologist outside TU Delft. You are of course always free to contact the university psychologists on your own initiative if you feel the need to do so.
  • You can contact your own general physician or the Student Medical Practice Delft (SGZ). If the general physician is absent in the weekend, then you can contact the GP out-of-hours surgery (in Delft) at 015-2511930. More information about this service is available on the website.
  • It can be beneficial to contact a confidential counsellor. More information about this is available here.
  • Because one in ten students experience sexual intimidation, it is likely that you may be asked to listen to someone’s story. In that case, it is good to know the best way to respond. It is most important to remain calm. If you simply listen quietly, the other feels free to tell their story. Other conversation techniques are described here.