Unwanted sexual behaviour: what can you do?

Touching, intimidation, unwanted e-mail messages, intimate questions, peeping, sexual assault, ... create a hostile, humiliating or threatening environment.

What is Unwanted Sexual Behavior?

Unwanted sexual behavior consists of any act with sexual connotation that is demeaning or threatening and affects a person's personality, dignity or integrity. Examples are touching, intimidation, unwanted e-mail messages, intimate questions, peeping, sexual assault… There is simply no discussion about certain boundaries. But other boundaries are very individual. Sometimes behavior can therefore be transgressive without it actually being intended.

Sexual harassment is a common problem among students. Yet many victims do not report it to supporting organisations.Trustpunt: seksueel grensoverschrijdend gedrag
This was revealed in a study by Ghent University among first-year students. Anyone needing to talk about such experiences can turn to Trustpunt. “Sexual harassment is remarkably common,” concludes Joke Depraetere after her study at Ghent University between April and July 2019. “Among the students in the first year of their bachelor degree,16.1% of the men and 28.5% of the women experienced harassment in the past 12 months. Women are much more often the victim: 34% of them had already been kissed or touched in a sexual manner against their will.” Read the article.

What can you do yourself?

Were you too surprised or shocked at the time to respond? Know that it is never too late to intervene, even as a witness. Maybe you doubt whether the other really went too far. Also in that case: don't get stuck with it. As soon as you didn't feel comfortable, it helps to talk about what happened. You can do this when you feel like a victim:

  • Clearly define your boundaries. You do that with an assertive I message, such as: "I want you to stop this behavior." Not sure how to best approach this? Trustpunt helps you with this.
  • Get yourself to safety. Go to a friend, family member, police station, hospital, or any other place where you feel safe as soon as possible.

Where can you go?

Talking about sexually transgressive behavior: it is never self-evident. Still, it is important to confide in someone. In any case, you are not alone:

  • Trustpunt: You can go to a confidential counselor for an confidential counselor, in all discretion. He or she will explain any next steps and refer you to further help if necessary.
  • Ghent University Security Department and Emergency Centre: if you are in need at a UGent location, you can call 09 264 88 88 around the clock for immediate help.
  • Zorgcentrum na Seksueel Geweld: this service within UZ Gent takes care of victims of sexual violence. A multidisciplinary team provides medical and psychological care. But you can also go there for a forensic investigation and / or to file a complaint. More info: seksueelgeweld.be. You can also chat anonymously with counsellors on this site.
“At my internship my supervisor regularly made sexual comments. Occasionally he touched me too. Although I felt very uncomfortable with this, I continued to behave normally. I didn't want anyone to find out. At one point I decided to talk about it anyway. After all, the incident kept haunting my mind. The counselor took the time to listen and explained the possible next steps clearly, without making a judgment . It was a great relief to be able to share this with someone. ” (a student after a conversation at Trustpunt)

How do you help a friend or fellow student?

As a witness to unwanted sexual behavior, it takes a lot of courage to respond. Yet it is important that you do not just let it pass. After all, you can ensure that the situation does not get worse and that the behavior stops. A few tip:
  • Offer a listening ear. Let your friend or fellow student tell his or her story in peace. Your own opinion does not matter now.
  • Don't judge. Maybe your friend or fellow student is afraid of not being believed. Whether he or she is struggling with feelings of guilt or shame. So don't question the story and avoid questions like: why were you there? Why did you dress like that? How come you did not respond immediately?

  • Seek help together. You can contact Trustpunt for a confidential conversation.

Make yourself stronger as an "active bystander"

During this Trustpunt training you will learn concrete techniques to act effectively when you witness unacceptable behavior. Like to follow a training? Contact us for more information.

What is Ghent University's policy on sexual harassment?

To prevent (sexually) transgressive behavior, Ghent University is committed to an organizational culture in which a caring, positive and respectful interaction is encouraged. The code of conduct sets out the guidelines in the broad context of interpersonal behavior. The code applies to employees, students and anyone who comes into contact with our university.