Reporters Jang Kapgen and Elina Baudier report an alleged case of misconduct by the Dutch police in responding to the sexual assault of an international University of Amsterdam student.
Trigger Warning: This story mentions sexual assault and police misconduct.
The police should be a reliable and trustworthy resource for anyone in need. Jane [alias used for this article] thought so as well, but her testimonial speaks of misconduct and an overall breach of trust. In late August earlier this year, third-year University of Amsterdam (UvA) student Jane was attacked and sexually assaulted by her ex-boyfriend when she visited his apartment. After the assault, she immediately sought help by calling the police to the crime scene, yet she was met with a level of insensitivity and incompetence that resulted in even further emotional distress.
“I don’t know what I expected, but I expected more”, explains Jane, still in disbelief. “When the police finally arrived, they refused to answer any questions, they refused to speak English”. She detailed how, upon arrival, they only spoke to the assaulter, a Dutch male, and refused to let her make a statement. As Jane was still at the assaulter’s home, he was the person who opened the door to the male officers and led them to Jane. She audibly called for help and explained her situation to the officers but was disregarded. She even asked them to take photographs or to secure evidence, such as the linen, but she claims the police did not follow her requests. Eventually, two female officers showed up, which gave her hope as she had been ignored up to that point. “I asked if the female police officers could stay because I wasn’t comfortable with them all being men. I tried to express what had just happened, but straight away the male officers weren’t interested. So, I hoped that the female officers might have more compassion, but no. They were done within two minutes, patted me down and then left”. She felt that her position as a female foreigner in the Netherlands led to some bias in how the five male police officers that showed up that evening handled the situation.
The police then called an ambulance to the scene, which again led Jane to hope for some compassion or adroitness. While Jane was sitting on the street waiting for the ambulance to arrive, still in shock about the actual assault and the continued disregard of her allegation, she had to listen to the officers ordering pizza for the team. “The one I liked the least ordered a spicy chicken pizza for when they were returning to the station. I don’t know if they thought I couldn’t understand Dutch, but pizza is quite a universal word”. She felt completely ignored and in total disbelief. In the ambulance, she was tested for alcohol and met with no real answers to her questions. Instead of sending Jane to a sexual assault center or hospital, the police drove her to a mental health center, where she was put into a six-square-meter room with no windows and a locked door. “They told me to press a button in case I needed help. The button did not work”. After a while, she was let out and left with no instructions or advice for her situation. She still does not know why she was put into this mental health facility.
After the cascading events of misconduct from the night of the incident, Jane – once again – went to seek help from the police, as they still seemed like the appropriate contact point for victims of sexualized violence. At the station, she was told that she could only make an appointment in eight days and was offered no resources. Following a friend’s advice, she then contacted the embassy of her home country, which immediately sent a representative and helped her get an appointment the same night. She was still unable to make a report that night and was asked questions such as “what were you wearing?”. She was finally told to “go away, think about it, and then see what you want to do”.
Jane was met with what seemed like a general disinterest in her case despite the severity of the situation. The total lack of instruction on what to do or who to talk to was the most unsettling factor for her. “At that point, I was desperate. I just needed to tell someone what happened because I didn’t want to start blocking it all out”. As a foreigner in the Netherlands, especially a female, she was met with an apparent lack of help from the police and had to rely entirely on the help of her embassy. Jane fears that this might be the case for all those who have undergone a similar situation. “My main thing is that it makes me scared for other victims. There is no guidance and no support from anyone, you’re sort of left to work it out yourself.” In early September, Jane was finally able to report her assault.
Jane’s fear for others in her situation is not without basis–unfortunately, her case is not unique. According to the Centrum Seksueel Geweld (Center for Sexual Assault), one in eight women in the Netherlands has been a victim of rape. There are 100,000 victims of sexual assault each year, and 90% of them are female. Additionally, those in the 12-24-year-old age group are four times more likely to experience sexual assault. Most perpetrators are members of the victim’s family or friends. With such an abundance of cases like Jane’s in the Netherlands, an adequate and responsible reaction from the police would be expected.
Anouk works at the sexual assault center (Centrum Seksueel Geweld Amsterdam-Amstelland) which offers care and support to survivors of any kind of sexualized violence. She notes that each sexual assault survivor has three options. “They can either choose to not contact any authority or seek out professional care, which is what most people do. Very understandably, they just go home, take a shower and try to forget the awful thing that happened to them. Or they contact the police. Or they contact the sexual assault center.” She explain the police do sometimes collaborate with the center: “The police refer victims to the sexual assault center and give them our information, so we can provide care. On our side, we ask victims that approach us if they want to talk to the police and then act accordingly – always in communication with the person. Even if the person does not want to get in contact with the police, we still provide all our resources.” Sadly, Jane did not know about the sexual assault center and was not informed about their resources. Anouk explains that you can reach the assault center via phone, chat and email. However, calling is the primary way of reaching the center, as the chat is operated nationally and thus cannot offer local support and emails might not be processed quickly enough. To highlight is, that calling via an international phone number is not possible.
In Jane’s case, it is unknown if a specialized sex crime unit was sent to the crime scene, but Jane strongly doubts it. “They didn’t introduce themselves as a special unit and their overall conduct tells me that they just were police staff from close by.” Anouk specifies: “I know, that the police can initiate a forensic medical investigation, sometimes called a rape kit, if they have reasons which call for such an investigation”. Such reasons include, among others, expected or visible DNA of the perpetrator, hair, fluids or any other potential evidence on the body or clothing of the victim. Anouk notes that this is, however, based on the police’s judgment. If the police deem it necessary, “they can then propose to do such a forensic medical investigation to the victim. The final decision, nevertheless, remains with the victim”.
“I recommend to anyone who has to go through such situations, please call us. We are available 24/7. If something happens, day or night, we have professionals who can help you – with medical care, psychological support, and juridical advice [for example, getting a lawyer]. We can also explain to you what happens when you call the police or what happens during a medical examination. One of our staff members will also go with you to such medical examinations.” As Anouk explains, the police are the only ones who can initiate medical examinations. “But when they initiated the procedure of a forensic medical investigation, they call us [the sexual assault center] and one of our forensic nurses, which is a personal support person, is sent over. The nurse then comes to the police station to explain exactly what is going to happen, why it is going to happen in this way, and so forth. Such examinations can be quite an emotional experience after a sexual assault.”
The Amsterdammer reached out to the police for a comment but was denied a statement. Upon request for the documents mentioned by the sexual assault center, the police redirected The Amsterdammer to the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry of Justice, however, informed our reporters that the police were supposed to hand out the requested documents. Even after further contact with the police, they still refused to give a statement or send the requested information and even denounced student journalism, as they commented on our reporter’s UvA email address. According to their press person, they are currently under “extreme media pressure” and cannot address internal procedures and ongoing investigations. The request, however, was for a public document stating the police’s commitment to addressing sexualized violence – “aanwijzing bejegening slachtoffers zedendelicten”.
In a follow-up interview with Jane in mid-November, she informed us that “there is still no update on my case [which was submitted in early September]. Honestly, the police did not gather any evidence or document anything on the day itself, so I know what the outcome of my allegations will be, but I want to hear it from them.”
She was still unable to make a report that night and was asked questions such as “what were you wearing?”. She was finally told to “go away, think about it, and then see what you want to do”.