Many Delft students experience sexual transgression, few report it

Two out of three TU Delft students experience sexually transgressive behaviour during their studies. This was revealed in a survey by Delta.

Photo for illustration purposes only. (Photo: Justyna Botor)

Of the students who filled in Delta’s questionnaire last month, two out of three say that they had experienced sexually transgressive behaviour since they started studying at TU Delft. In the case of one third of the students, that behaviour was perpetrated by someone connected to TU Delft, mostly a student, but in a couple of cases a teacher (graph).

  • The Sexual Assault Center offers help to anyone that has experienced an unwanted sexual encounter. You can chat or phone 0800-0188 anonymously and free of charge.
  • TU Delft has Confidential Advisers for staff members and students where you can report transgressive behaviour. They will listen to you and can help you and refer you on. There is also a complaints rule for unwanted behaviour (see chapter 10).

Eleven percent
Students have all sorts of experiences in sexually transgressive behaviour. This includes non-consensual penetration (11%, all women) or oral sex (5%); unwanted touching (51%) or kissing (18%); verbal behaviour such as being catcalled on the street and sexual jokes or comments (50%); and, digital forms of sexual jokes and comments on social media, and dick pics (15%).

Similar research by Amnesty International among all students in the Netherlands showed comparable figures. The questionnaire also revealed that one of 10 female students had non-consensual sex during her studies. Rape also happened to 1% of male students, revealed Amnesty. In Delta’s research, none of the male respondents stated that they had had this experience.

Physical transgressive behaviour in the form of unwanted touching or kissing mostly occurred at student associations and in nightlife settings (graph). Unwanted penetration and unwanted oral sex occurred in student houses. Verbal transgressive behaviour mostly happened on the street (catcalling) and in nightlife settings.

Few reports
While more than two thirds of the student respondents say that they experienced sexually transgressive behaviour during their studies, students rarely report this to TU Delft. In 2020 and 2021, Confidential Advisers received five reports of sexual intimidation.

Delta’s questionnaire also showed that only a small proportion of the victims report to a confidential advisor, academic counsellor, teacher or other TU Delft staff member. Of the students who had non-consensual sex or oral sex, over 80% did not report it. At 95%, the percentage is higher in the case of other forms of sexually transgressive behaviour.

Why so few students report their experiences has different reasons (graph). Some respondents say that they felt partly responsible (‘I doubted myself, maybe it was my own fault?’), are ashamed about what happened, do not feel it serious enough to report (‘I just thought at the time that it was ‘just something’ that can happen to any girl’), or believe that lodging a report would not have any effect (‘I did not think that anything would be done about it, which would only cause more frustration instead of helping’).

Few students also know who they can turn to at TU Delft to lodge reports about sexually transgressive experiences. One of three students who filled in the questionnaire know how to find a confidential advisor. Almost half (46%) of the respondents do not know where they can report transgressive behaviour or how they can lodge an official complaint about transgressive behaviour at TU Delft (71%).

Furthermore, many students do not have faith in the careful handling of a report to TU Delft. 53% of the students are positive, 41% have no confidence, and 6% do not know (graph). Students who have experienced sexually transgressive behaviour have even less confidence (49%) in the proper handling of their case.

Training on consent
When it came to unwanted touching or catcalling in the street, respondents frequently remarked that it was simply ‘part of life’. “Unwanted physical contact happens a lot when going out. However shameful and horrible it is, you can do little about it”, writes one respondent. “Sexual comments about women are a frequent occurrence at TU Delft where the majority of the students are men”, adds another.

61% of the respondents therefore like to see TU Delft make students aware of healthy sexual norms, 24% are neutral and 15% do not expect anything from TU Delft (graph).

Almost all the students (86%) think that TU Delft should investigate students’ encounters with sexually transgressive behaviour. 90% of the students think that TU Delft should penalise students and staff members who display sexually transgressive behaviour.

On top of this, more than 40% of the students want TU Delft to provide training on consent, for example how to give consent to sexual activities and how to ask for consent.

‘Talking about consent may not seem appealing’, answered one respondent, ‘But I think that more attention should be given to the subject. Several student associations and TU Delft have signed a Declaration of Intent, but I am not a member of an association. This deserves attention outside the associations too.’

Psychological symptoms
The impact on the students who are the victims of sexually transgressive behaviour is huge.

The students who experienced unwanted penetration or oral sex often have problems. One out of three had psychological problems, and one out of five had sexual problems (graph). ‘I found it really hard to relax during sex in my new relationship, while my current partner respects my boundaries and is very understanding’, wrote one respondent. Another says that she is now afraid of men and that she has no more male friends.

One respondent had anxiety issues after being catcalled on the street. “It took months to understand that it was not my fault and that I could forgive myself for not daring to respond.” Another student put on her Zoom camera during the Covid period and received apps with transgressive messages. “I didn’t dare join the lessons after that.”

Executive Board response
“The outcomes of this survey almost perfectly parallel the outcomes of the investigation that Amnesty Nederland published last year. In that sense, while the figures are truly shocking, they do not surprise us. We are, however, concerned about the current student culture,” says Vice Rector Magnificus Rob Mudde.

“As a university, we are responsible for everything that happens under the flag of education on campus. We are not responsible for what happens in the private space, such as in student houses or student associations. But students who experience sexually transgressive behaviour in the private space, suffer huge repercussions. On their studies, for example. We at TU Delft could do better here. The research shows that the helplines are hard to find. We are now working hard on improving the findability of the Confidential Advisers and Academic Counsellors on the website.” (continue reading)

214 students filled in our in-depth questionnaire between 21 April and 1 June 2022. The respondents came from all faculties. 42% are master’s students, 58% are bachelor’s students. 12% of the respondents are international students. The percentage of international students compared to the current percentage is proportionately less (24%, reference date 14 June 2022).

The ratio of male and female students is about the same. 50% of the respondents is male, 49% female and 1% do not identify with either gender. Given the current percentage of female TU Delft students (31%, reference date 14 June 2022), female students are over-represented in the survey.

Do you want to know more about how the survey was done? Read this in-depth accountability.

  • This generated a very wide range of results that we cannot all cover in one article. We are grateful for the openness of all the respondents. It was not a short questionnaire, but they nevertheless took the time to fill in the answers. Many of you also shared personal stories. We have also been able to talk to several respondents who left their contact details. We will cover their and other stories in a subsequent article. Given the summer holidays, the next article will be published at the beginning of the new academic year.

This survey came about with the help of Tim Ficheroux and Feba Sukmana, Erasmus Magazine Editors, and the academics at the Erasmus Love Lab. Read more about the findings of the Rotterdam survey here.

Where can you go for help?

  • Have you experienced an unwanted sexual experience and do you want to talk about it? Then contact the Sexual Assault Center where specialists are 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.
  • TU Delft also offers support. The first person you should contact is always your Academic Counsellor.
  • With your permission, your Academic Counsellor will put you in touch with the Safety and Security Department. They guide students through the process of lodging a report at the police if they have been the victim of sexually transgressive behaviour.
  • The Academic Counsellor can also refer you to the student psychologists. They offer short term guidance of up to three sessions. If you need long term support, they will refer you to the general practitioner or a psychologist outside TU Delft.
  • You can always contact your own general practitioner or the Student Healthcare Services (SGZ). Should the general practitioner not be available in the weekend, you can always contact the general medical centre in Delft on 015-2511930. See the website for more information.
  • It may help to contact a confidential advisor. Click here for more information.
  • 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.
News editor Marjolein van der Veldt

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