Cece Dao. Photo: Max de Mier

INTERVIEW| Erasmus University student Cece Dao (21) had to attend classes with her sexual assaulter, now she shares revealing information on the university. Conclusion: the university cares more about handling examination complaints than reports of sexual assault.

Online petition

Cece publicly spoke out it her online petition, which has now been signed by over 2,500 people. In the petition, she explains how in 2017 a student from the same study as hers; International Bachelor in Communication and Media (IBCoM), molested her. Despite the assaulter confessing in a Facebook message to Cece, he still continues to follow the same program. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that the Erasmus University (EUR) suspended the student from attending the same lectures as Cece.

Before going on exchange the EUR promised to not schedule Cece and the assaulter in the same tutorial groups. After returning, she had to follow a mandatory course, just like her assaulter, which meant the measurement wouldn’t work anymore.

Cece proposed many ideas herself, including filming the lectures so that one of them wouldn’t have to go to it.

No solutions

The EUR stated that there was nothing they could do for her, and only schedule the assaulter in different tutorial classes than Cece. Filming the lectures was not a solution to them.

I was told again and again nothing could be done.

Now that the case has gained quite some national media attention, the faculty then decided to still take the assaulter out of the general lectures and record them for him. So apparently there was more that they could do for her, it just took some media attention to do the trick.

Legal processes

Upon advice from the faculty, Cece filed a police report. Without a police report she could not file a complaint to the Executive board. However, the board itself doesn’t have the authority to do any investigative work, that’s up to another institution. But still, it took them a full week to get back to Cece about her hearing. In other words, they didn’t do anything for 7 days.

Cece only later learned that she could file this complaint about sexual misconduct, no one told her in the beginning, which is very shady.

Erasmus University Rotterdam. Photo: Nicky Papilaja

The facts

These were already some early red flags that showed perfectly how much the university cares about cases like these. Let’s pull up some statistics to see how big of a problem this lack of attention for sexual assault victims really is.

In a report published in 2015, the University states how they, in the years of 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 only handled 1 complaint per year. One of these complaints was withdrawn and another one was ruled unfounded.

The report mentions how there weren’t more complaints filed, but nonetheless these statistics indicate that not enough is done to motivate victims to seek help.

According to research done in the UK, 27% of the women there have experienced sexual misconduct during their time studying at their university. Similar statistics might apply to Dutch universities too.

However, according to the reports by the university, only 1 person (and some years 0) files a report each year. This means that less than 1% of all the people that experienced sexual misconduct decide to speak out. Potentially a large number of students is walking around with trauma of sexual assault but are not publicly speaking out. Is this the fault of the university?

Yes it is.

Priotities

In comparison, the Board of Appeal for Examinations (CBE) got in these same years 904 complaints. There is no doubt that there are more cases of dissatisfaction with examination procedures than cases of sexual misconduct. However, students who do experience inappropriate behavior on campus are not motivated to speak out.

In contrast, under every exam students are motivated to file their complaints if they are not satisfied with the exam procedures. Is the same amount of attention given to people who become victims of sexual assault?

No it isn’t.

Slow procedures

After all, it took Cece a whole year after the traumatizing experience to go to the university and ask for help. And even after she spoke out, the support staff wasn’t always so helpful.

I went to the student advisor, the confidential counselor, and the dean, and each of them told me very different information about what I can do

Cece notified the executive board of the EUR about her petition after a thousand signatures. However, it took them a full three weeks to respond. And this is not because they weren’t aware.

They knew about the petition, her case, and the attention it was getting online. Still, Cece’s case didn’t seem like a priority to them.

… it frustrated me to see them saying over and over again in different newspapers that they had taken note of my petition and that student safety was their number 1 priority, but they still took so long to reach out to me

So why doesn’t the EUR care? Personally, I believe sexual misconduct is not top of their priorities. To the outside world, they present grades, averages, honor programmes, achievements, research, etc. To them, investing time and money in programs preventing unwanted behavior and mental support for victims is simply not worth it.

Broken system

Erasmus University. Photo: Nicky Papilaja

And the EUR is not the only guilty one. The lack of support from educational institutes for victims of sexual assault is part of a larger broken system.

People are often in disbelief of what happened to them. Research shows that victims are not psychologically ready to accept the idea of being harassed or assaulted. Often, they look for reasons to disbelieve.

There are widespread misconceptions about sexual assault. One of them is the number of false reports. This number is often far overestimated; in most cases the victims are rightly accusing those who assaulted them.

However, misconceptions like these, among other reasons, make institutions like higher education not take cases like Cece’s serious.

Innocent until proven guilty

Far too often phrases such as ‘innocent until proven guilty’ are thrown around. But what they forget is that these cases concern damaged, traumatized, terrified, and mostly scared people.

And for your own university to not take your case seriously and only proceed to take actions after it gets bad media exposure, that is truly horrific.

Besides, let’s not forget that Cece’s assaulter confessed his crimes in a private Facebook message to her. Is that not enough reason to suspend the suspect from attending the university?

He owed up to what he did, called himself an assaulter

All alone

During this whole process, Cece felt as if she had to deal with everything herself. The university is barely in contact with her, and the people from support staff do not check up on how she’s doing.

The procedures are nowhere near transparent

Everything takes long, everyone responds slowly, and it seems like the only people caring about bringing justice to the case of Cece are those who have been through the same, share her story, and sign her petition.

The EUR doesn’t have an internal trust person for cases like Cece’s. They had to get this person from the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague. Because this person doesn’t know much about the EUR, he couldn’t always give the right advice.

Towards healing

Photo: Max de Mier

Cece got the strength to speak out after seeing how her friend Lena did the same. Lena was able to turn something so horrific into art, and use it as a strength instead of a weakness.

When I talked to Cece I felt that she is an extremely strong woman. She is owning her own story and demanding justice for what she believes is an injustice to not only her, but women anywhere who go through the same.

If you want to help Cece on her mission to get justice, sign her petition here. Also help spread her story by sharing this petition and article with everyone in your environment.

Cece’s own small scale research already indicates that around 20% of the people that approached her after the petition, to say they experienced the same, did not speak out about this.

Please answer the poll below to contribute to these statistics. Answers will be completely confidential and only presented in the form of anonymized statistics.

Have you ever experienced unwanted sexual behavior?

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If yes, did you speak out about this?

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