“Bring back CARE”, a powerful, emotionally-laden and energising protest at Leiden University
TW: sexual assault, rape
On the 4th of November, around 150 Leiden University students participated in a protest at the Wijnhaven campus against the University’s lacking sexual violence survivor support system. The student behind the Instagram account @a.survivor.at.leiden drew attention to the discontinuation and defunding of LU’s only sexual violence support group in July 2021. She wrote a letter to the University, her petition has been signed by more than 5,000 people, a survivors’ exhibition was organised and LU has yet to take action. In the face of this inaction, a sit-in demonstration took place on the Spanish Steps at Wijnhaven.
The protest began without much noise, but soon the protestors began chanting slogans such as “Bring back CARE” and “Stop the violence, no more silence”. This triggered a response from Leiden University officials, who came to warn/threaten us that the protest had to be silent – as stated in LU’s protest conditions – or else there might be consequences. Among the consequences, one of the organisers explained, is possible expulsion from your programme. Unintimidated by this ironic and somewhat jarring demand, students refused to have their voices silenced and continued to chant.
Throughout the demonstration, speakers were allowed to take the floor to address the energised crowd. The organisers of the event explained what the problem was they were protesting against, why a support group is so important and stated their demands:
- 1. Bring back CARE (sexual assault & rape support group)
- 2. Fund CARE
- 3. Preventative measures on LU campuses
- 4. 0 tolerance for sexual violence
(For comparison, the University of Amsterdam has multiple sexual violence support groups.)
Others also came forward during the two hours that the protest lasted. A speaker from Anarcha-Feminist Group Amsterdam held this powerful speech about taking up space and speaking up, even if institutions and systems work against you.
“Hello everyone. I’m part of AFGA. I’m here because this is the first feminist demonstration I’ve seen in my student life in the Netherlands. Thank you for being here.
I was also at the anti-police violence demonstration in Rotterdam yesterday. The meaning of violence in our patriarchal society goes even further. One of those tools of systemic violence is the State consistently silencing victims and survivors of sexual violence and misogyny. Leiden University taking CARE away proves that it does not get better.
All the stories I’ve heard of sexual assault and rape had to be kept in the private sphere, under a rug or to be dealt with logically by the survivors for the system to accept them.
None of the experiences I’ve heard about or have gone through have been reported. It is too hard to talk about our stories. It is emotional and we relive our trauma. There is no solution where we can express ourselves safely in public and the patriarchal State makes it harder and harder for us to heal.
It refuses our emotions, our rage and expects us to deal with our trauma logically and silently, without help.
We can’t and we never will!
Fight against every institution that does not let you express your trauma and takes away your solutions to heal. Never stop fighting against the patriarchy.
BRING BACK CARE!”
The Hague Union of Students criticised the depoliticisation of university spaces and Leiden’s xCC emphasised the importance of self-determination and of standing united against indifference and opposition from LU in their speech:
“We are from the xCC Leiden, the x crisis coalition.
This turnout is fantastic. It shows that WE care, and that WE have power.
They tried to silence us, once again, right at the beginning of this demo. But because we all showed up, and because we were united, they couldn’t do anything about it. Our voices pierced through their indifference, their fake-support, their ‘please don’t bother me with your problems’ bullshit.
This shows that WE are the solution, WE are the only ones that can and should determine how we’ve got to tackle the problem of sexual violence at LU. Solidarity is key, among each and every one of us, among all our groups.
So, give us our fucking money, and let CARE do what it’s been so great at doing so far: building community, keep us safe, ensure justice.
Listen to us
Listen to CARE
We won’t be silenced
Because we are united.”
The protest was a powerful, emotionally-laden and energising statement. It is clear that more is to come if LU does not meet the demands formulated by the organisers. The demonstration attracted the attention of the media, with University newspaper Mare interviewing protestors, and of local politics. Fatima Faïd, of the local party Haagse Stadspartij, visited the protest and will be asking questions in The Hague municipal council – an importance source of money for Leiden University. LU can expect the movement for proper sexual violence care to grow stronger with both inside and outside support the longer it chooses to ignore and silence the needs of its student body.