- Warning: this article describes situations of sexually transgressive behaviour.
‘Since BOOS exposed instances of sexual harassment in the television programme The Voice, I have become aware that what happened to me is not my fault’, writes Laura (not her real name*) in an email to the Editorial Office on 14 March.
Laura was stalked and had non-consensual sex several times. She is resolute and writes that she wants to share her experiences ‘so that no student experiences transgressive sexual behaviour ever again’. Her story is told in three parts.
“When I started studying at TU Delft, I lived in a student house with 20 housemates. At a certain point I started getting strange messages from one of the male housemates, also a student. The messages became more and more inappropriate.”
“I was 18, he was a couple years older. It was really uncomfortable. I did not know how to handle it and was worried. My housemates pushed the issue aside and told me to ignore the messages.”
“When he continued to send me apps, I blocked his telephone number and social media accounts. He did not accept this. He said bad things about me on the group app – where his number was not blocked – and threatened me on Facebook. We lived in the same house all that time and legally there was no reason to evict him. If I was in the common room, he purposely sat next to me and touched me. When my housemates also thought that things were going too far they put him under a ‘contact ban’, a sort of agreement saying that he may not approach me anymore.”
“But even that did not stop him. It was around one in the morning when some of my housemates woke me up. The man had tried to lock me in my room by spraying PUR foam around my door. ‘Go away’ was scrawled in blood on the wall next to the door. I was rigid with fear and not capable of phoning the police. A housemate called the emergency number but the police said that they ‘would not come out for a student prank’. When I went to the police station the next day with the evidence, they said that I should have called them immediately. In the end I lodged a report and had to sleep elsewhere till the end of the academic year as I did not feel safe in my house anymore.”
‘I had nobody to help me’
“The verdict was issued six months after I lodged the report. It was the week after the 16 year old Humeyra (in Dutch) had been shot dead by her stalker. While I had collected more than 100 pages of evidence, the case was dismissed on the grounds of a lack of evidence. The ground fell out from under me. I started to doubt myself completely and wondered if I had seen things wrongly and that the situation may not be as bad as I was thinking.”
“I moved after the verdict. I started to live by myself and was really afraid as, should anything happen, there was nobody to help me. Fellow students, friends and family thought that things were going well. I was safe and had good friends, a family that was always there for me and I passed my courses. Problem solved, right?”
“No. I developed an anxiety disorder because of everything that had happened. I had nobody help me. Not from my surroundings, the police or TU Delft. On the day I lodged the incident, victim support was offered, but I was so full of adrenaline from what had happened the night before that I didn't fully register it.”
‘It was not about punishing him, but about making things clear for myself’
“There is no one or no desk at TU Delft that supports students when they lodge police reports or through the aftermath. I hardly knew what had happened to me and, whatever the cost, I wanted to get my credits. It would have been helpful to have had a regular contact person who checked how things were going once in a while. I had to find out everything for myself, from lodging the report to processing everything that was happening. Is this realistic when you experience this type of thing? I believe that TU Delft should take students who experience sexual abuse, are stalked or experience unwanted behaviour more seriously.”
In the end I sought psychological help and, thanks to trauma and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, gained control over the anxiety disorder. I also appealed against the verdict. Two and a half years after my case was dismissed, my stalker was sentenced. He had to pay EUR 1,000 in damages but did not get a restraining order as the judge deemed that he needed to be able to finish his studies. Nevertheless, I was relieved as it was a confirmation that I was not imagining things. It was not about punishing him, but about making things clear for myself.”
“At the start of my second year I met a guy. We started a relationship and I was really happy. He was interested in me and I had the feeling that I was not alone anymore.”
‘His friends had sex three times a week so we had to as well’
“He was with me when, shortly after the case was dismissed, I was diagnosed with vaginismus. We went to the gynaecologist and sex therapist together. We discovered that it was caused by the tension that had accumulated in my body because of having been stalked. It made me very insecure and I was afraid that my boyfriend would leave me because of it and I would have to face the world alone again. But he said that he supported me and was there for me.”
- Vaginismus is a painful spasmodic contraction of the vagina in response to physical contact or pressure, especially during sexual intercourse.
“This is the hardest thing to talk about because I keep thinking that maybe it’s my fault. Did I do anything to bring it on?”
“If we had sex and penetration didn’t work, the promised support disappeared. Then it was my problem and I had to solve it another way as he was the man and he needed it. If I said no to sex, he always persuaded me. ‘Nobody wants a girlfriend like you’ he would say. Or he threatened to throw me out. At these times the prospect of being alone was scarier than granting him sex. So I just did it. I never received anything from him and that made me feel like I was being punished for having vaginismus.”
“His friends said that they had sex three times a week so we had to as well. It was really nice sometimes, but all too often it was not. To avoid difficult discussions, I started planning when I would get drunk. Then I wouldn’t notice the sex and didn’t need to feel anything. It sounds ridiculous, but I was in love and was so afraid of losing him. It was choosing the lesser of two evils.”
“I was ashamed and did not talk about it to anyone. I did not feel free to talk about it as sex is just part of being in a relationship, right? No. He should have listened to me if I refused or had pain. It takes two to tango and you don’t have to be the only one to give all the time. The fact that I have vaginismus does not mean that I don’t have the right to pleasurable sex.”
‘I still stiffen with fear if I see him’
“He ended our relationship in the end. ‘You are really fucked up and my friends think so too. I don’t want to be associated with someone like you’ he said. Those words still resound in my head.”
“We study at the same faculty so I see him regularly. He can just go ahead and do his thing while I still stiffen with fear if I see him. He can boast about his board position on his CV, but I can’t put what happened to me on my CV. I can get really angry about this.”
“In the year before Covid I was part of a student team. We organised a party and a date was arranged for me. I was very tense, but it was a really nice guy. After dinner we went to my house. I had clearly said upfront that I did not want sex.”
‘He brushed my vaginismus aside as an excuse’
“You guessed it, as soon as we got to my house he started talking about sex straightaway. Like my ex, he didn’t stop. ‘Are you sure?’ he asked when I refused repeatedly. ‘Look what you’re doing, you’re making me so horny’. I had gone through this before. I knew that he would not stop and again I started wondering how bad it could be really. Maybe, as my fellow students say, I should be more relaxed in my behaviour. He brushed my vaginismus aside as an excuse.”
“That the sex didn’t work out was hardly surprising. And neither was his comment that I ‘could solve it in a different way’. So there I was again, just as with my ex, solving it in a different way.”
“I woke up the next morning with his hand in my panties. He touched me and said that ‘things do not feel as tight as yesterday’ and if we could try again. I said that I didn’t want to and got out of bed.”
“It was again clear that my boundaries had been crossed. No is no and it does not mean ‘convince me’. Without a clear ‘yes’, they will not have sex with you. But the question is what value ‘yes’ has if the other person has said ‘no’ repeatedly for half an hour.”
Change in culture is needed
After telling her story, it is clear from Laura’s expression that she is relieved. It is over. She has told her story and shared her experiences.
“It is having more of an effect on me than I had thought. My whole body feels tense. But I want to share my story because I don’t want anyone else to go through this misery. While this may be a combination of circumstances, every single incident is bad.”
“A change in culture is needed in the student world,” she says resolutely. She believes that TU Delft and the student associations should take responsibility for providing information on how to enjoy sex comfortably. And that students should address each other on their behaviour.
‘Students egg each other on. It’s more about how often you do it than about having a good experience’
“What I have now experienced is that students egg each other on, that it is more about how often you do it than about having a good experience. It’s fine whether you want plenty of sex or less sex. It’s not about the fact that you have sex, but about it being pleasurable for everyone.”
“My experiences are clear examples of what is going on in TU Delft student life. I hope that my fellow students, if they recognise this story, know that it is okay to feel anxiety or sadness about what they have experienced. Some people will understand that what I have gone through is terrible. Other people will think that there isn’t a problem because I said yes in the end.”
“I don’t know what will happen to me now, but I hope that sharing my story will start the discussion about transgressive behaviour at TU Delft. And that the discussion about a healthy sex culture will start too.”
When Laura went through this process, help from TU Delft was less easily available. Nowadays this is better arranged, although it does require some searching. Therefore, Delta compiled the help framework below.
- Have you experienced an unwanted sexual experience and do you want to talk about it? Then contact the Sexual Assault Center that has specialists ready to help you. You can chat or phone 0800-0188 anonymously and free of charge.
- It can also help to talk to the people around you.
- The TU Delft also offers support. Your first point of contact is always your study advisor.
- If you wish, they will get you in touch with the Integral Safety Department. They will guide students in reporting sexually transgressive behaviour to the police. Together with you, they will also assess whether any aftercare is required.
- The study advisor can refer you to the student psychologists. They offer short-term counselling of up to three sessions. If there is a need for long-term help, they will refer you to your general practitioner or a psychologist outside the TU Delft.
- You can always contact your own GP or the Studentengezondheidszorg (SGZ). If your GP is not available at the weekend, you can contact the GP Centre (in Delft) on 015-2511930. More information can be found on the website.
- It may help to contact a confidential advisor. Click here for more information.
- As one of 10 students experience sexual intimidation, there is a good chance that you can listen to someone. In this case, it is helpful to know how best to respond. The important thing is to stay calm. Staying calm helps the other person tell his or her story. More conversation techniques are available here.
- Have you ever or do you know anyone who has ever experienced any sort of harassments, misconduct or unwanted behavior in and around TU Delft campus or during your time at the university? Help raise awareness by sharing your story with student council party Lijst Bèta and Delta.
* Laura’s real name is known to the Editorial Office.