Orange The World Campaign - How can we, as a University Community, Help to Prevent Violence against Women? The Orange The World logo, depicting an orange palm print and the words "Stop Violence Against Women"

Orange The World Campaign - How can we, as a University Community, Help to Prevent Violence against Women?

Nowadays violence against women is still common all over the world. In the spirit of the Orange The World campaign, we encourage Leiden University students to increase discussion about the subject and we present ways through which gendered violence can be prevented in the university community.

Trigger warning - experiences of sexual (and other forms of) violence will be discussed here.

Today, the 25th of November, is the International day of fighting against Violence Against Women. According to the World Health Organization, one in three of women (35%) globally have experienced violence in their lifespan[1]. The violence ranges from emotional and physical violence to sexual violence, from partner to non-partner violence. Women from all age-ranges and backgrounds are at risk, and university students are no exception to this. Gendered violence is a violation of human rights and the consequences of it can be substantial.

As a disclaimer, we acknowledge that all groups in society, including all genders, experience specific challenges and risks of violence which need to be addressed. However, this specific campaign and post focuses on violence against women. It is also important to note that violence affects in particular women with disabilities, women of color and transgender women Especially women of color face disproportionate levels of violence. More often than white women, they experience violence from law enforcement and violence due to racism.

Especially among university students, the topic of sexual violence deserves attention because we all are able to contribute to a pleasant study environment where all students feel welcome and safe. Since experiences of it can reduce self-confidence, lead to withdrawal from school and other people, and sometimes worsen one’s academic performance, both the university and the students themselves should help to reduce the stigma by engaging in discussions and questioning their own and others’ behavior that could contribute to violence against women. Gaining understanding on the meaning of consent, on how to intervene as a bystander and finally, how to support survivors of sexual violence helps in building a community that is safe to everyone.

Reporting violence and supporting the victims/survivors

People who have experienced sexual violence are likely to leave it to themselves instead of reporting it. They may be afraid that they will be judged or may have a feeling that their experience is not worth reporting or significant enough. Instead they end up feeling alone with their experiences which in the worst case may affect them for the rest of their life. What we can do here, is to encourage each other to report violence and make sure that the law enforcement is on the survivor’s side.

Additionally, since survivors of sexual violence likely already experience a lot of shame, self-blame and low self-worth, it is more useful to listen to them with understanding instead of undermining their experiences. In the same way, a lot of people have a hard time exiting abusive relationships. Nevertheless, others may underestimate their experiences in the following ways: “Oh then it’s not even that bad, if it was she would already have left him.”, or “How can she stay with someone that is abusing her?”. These comments, even if they were meant to be encouraging, can further lower victim-survivor’s self-worth.

On the other side, starting to talk more about the topic with our loved ones, believing the stories of our friends, and reminding each other that each experience of violence is meaningful, deserves to be told and has to be taken seriously could make a huge difference in someone’s life. The following story of a survivor of sexual violence shows the importance of the support of friends. Trigger warning: mention of non-consensual sexual acts.

“The first time I experienced sexual violence I was 14 and a 19 year old guy talked me into giving him a hand job, bragging about it in front of everyone the next day. Then, with 19, a friend of a friend ignored my ‘No’ and I lost my virginity against my will. I am now 21 and, to this day, cannot completely get rid of my feelings of disgust towards myself and shame in front of others. But what has tremendously helped me to regain my self-respect are my friends who never get tired of listening to my struggles and reassuring my feelings. Hearing things like “It was not your fault” and “It’s normal that you are feeling this way” have meant the world to me and helped me to seek the professional help that I need.”

See the contact information at the end of this post and do not hesitate to seek help.

CARE-Leiden: a support group for victims/survivors of sexual violence

For victims/survivors of sexual violence a strong support system is valuable. CARE-Leiden is a safe space for survivors of sexual violence. Weekly support group sessions guided by licensed psychologists are offered for Leiden University students who have experienced sexual violence.

Prevention of violence: Start a discussion about the topic

The most essential part of fighting gendered violence is preventing it from occurring in the first place. First, it is important to allow the topic to be a part of conversations and let the stigma around it fade away. If you are a part of a student association the topic can be raised there as well and discuss ways in which one can intervene. Second, due to our student party culture, we must recognize that drugs and alcohol may increase the likelihood of sexual violence [2] [3]. Third, it is important that we actively try to eliminate racism in our daily lives, by recognizing our implicit biases and repairing racial illiteracy. When racial tension and discrimination occurs it is up to us to responsibly address it because it might be a potentially powerful learning opportunity.[4]

Finally, talking about consent is of great importance. A lot of the time especially women are sexualized in the media and in their daily life. Which is why they may have built an idea of what behavior is expected of them in intimate physical relationships, even though it might not align with their wishes. Due to this many women may have difficulties in expressing themselves clearly in intimate situations. They may freeze and have fears, such as a fear of being judged by or disappointing their partner. By sensitising one to emotions and challenges that many women (and other genders) go through when it comes to intimacy can help to counteract this. Their experiences are real. That is also why one should ask for consent, that is, a clear indication that the other is willing to engage in intimate activities. Lack of clear indication from the other one should not be confused as a consent. Both sides can learn to be sensitive to each other’s expressions instead of relying on their own assumptions.

Boundaries, Communication & Consent workshop

Educating others and ourselves is valuable. Therefore, three students as a part of the CARE-Leiden team, together with the Expertisebureau Diversity and Inclusion of Leiden University are organizing a workshop in relation to the Orange The World campaign. The online workshop Boundaries, Communication & Consent will be held by the Our Bodies Our Voice organization and help-seeking options for students will be introduced. Topics such as social safety at university, conversations around boundaries and consent will be discussed. The event will take place on 10th of December from 18-20 o’clock, at the end of the OTW campaign and on the International Day of Human Rights.

Register by sending an email to diversiteit@leidenuniv.nl. Make sure to register early - the workshop is for a maximum of 20 people!

Orange The World Campaign and Leiden University

One way through which awareness about sexual violence and consent is being spread is the annual Orange The World Campaign which refers to the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence movement initiated in 1991. Between November 25th and December 10th (International Human’s Right Day) in more than 90 countries events and actions are being taken to inform about and combat violence against women. Likewise in Leiden, in the spirit of the campaign, the flags of the campaign will fly above university buildings and the Academy building and Old Library (Oude UB) will be lighted in orange color which is the identifiable color of the campaign. Other actions are also being taken with the focus on sexual violence, including the workshop Boundaries, Communication and Consent.

Phone Numbers & email addresses for help

Organisations that provide information and support in English:

Orange the World Petition: For easily accessible reporting of all forms of violence and appropriate help for all forms of violence https://www.orangetheworld.nl/petitie-orange-the-world-2020/

[1] World Health Organization, 2017. Violence Against Women. [online] Who.int. Available here [Accessed 14 November 2020].

[2] Reed, E., Amaro, H., Matsumoto, A., & Kaysen, D. (2009). The relation between interpersonal violence and substance use among a sample of university students: Examination of the role of victim and perpetrator substance use. Addictive behaviors, 34(3), 316-318.

[3] Kaysen, D., Neighbors, C., Martell, J., Fossos, N., & Larimer, M. E. (2006). Incapacitated rape and alcohol use: A prospective analysis. Addictive behaviors, 31(10), 1820-1832.

[4] Harper, S., & Davis III, C. (2016). Eight Actions to Reduce Racism in College Classrooms | AAUP. Retrieved 22 November 2020, from here.