Last academic year, de Moeial sent out a survey about (sexually) transgressive behavior at and around the VUB. This survey showed, among other things, that het Meldpunt was/is not really known among students. Editors Rieneke and Evelien spoke with Elly Audenaert, who has been the coordinator of het Meldpunt since November.
Text: Rieneke Lammens
Image: Laura De Brucker
The student displayed, among other things, how much the students know about het Meldpunt. The numbers speak for themselves: more than half of the questioned students did not know het Meldpunt, about 80% did not know how to reach it and even 85% did not know how het Meldpunt processes a report. Nevertheless, in the wake of the media storm about transgressive behavior at Flemish universities and university colleges, the VUB always turned to the Meldpunt as the authority that students could turn to. Internal communication and media attention ensured in the last couple of weeks that more students had heard about het Meldpunt. Nevertheless, a conversation between students, the former rector Caroline Pauwels and the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Philosophy Alex Housen in mid-February showed that the operation of het Meldpunt remains very unclear to many students.
Reports of transgressive behavior
The much needed clarity came in form of the coordinator of het Meldpunt, Elly Audenaert. Her main task is to follow up on reports. Although she was already appointed in November within the framework of reforms, extensive news about her and her function only came after the reports of transgressive behavior. But for what kind of behavior can you go to het Meldpunt? Elly emphasizes that any kind of transgressive behavior can be reported. “In summary, there are three broad categories”, Elly says. “The first category is psychological violence. This includes verbal threats, accusations, belittling, stalking, manipulation, abuse of power and intimidation. The second category is sexual transgressive behavior. This can range from unwanted attention over sexually oriented comments to groping or even rape. Finally, the third category involves discrimination and/or racism, such as homophobia, transphobia and racism. For other psychosocial difficulties, for example difficulties with your studies, you can go to the student psychologists.”
Reachability of het Meldpunt
While it is possible to report a lot of things, it remains unclear which concrete steps you have to take. As a student or staff member, you can currently only reach het Meldpunt via the email address email@example.com. However, according to Elly, there are plans to broaden that accessibility with, for example, a phone number, an app or free open days. However, whether or not this will be implemented, depends on the provision. Elly emphasizes that you do not yet have to disclose the facts you want to report in the mail: “You can also just send an email asking for an appointment or a meeting.” You always get an automatic response to your mail, so that you know that it was well received. “Depending on what the reporter themself wants, I always contact the person to have a conversation over the phone, an in-person dialogue or an online discussion. On the one hand, I take into account whether the reporter needs psychosocial, medical or legal support. This way, I can redirect them, because these matters are beyond my function. On the other hand, I ask the reporter what they themselves want to do with their report. We then go through the various options together. I tell them what is possible internally and externally, and if the reporter wants to undertake further steps, I provide them with further information.”
You do not yet have to disclose the facts you want to report in the mail
Broadly speaking, there are three different routes you can take as a reporter. “First of all, there is the remedial and restorative track. You can opt for this when you do have a problem with someone, but you are still in a phase where a conversation could possibly resolve the situation. I then give advice on how the reporter can best approach such a conversation or ensure that, if the reporter prefers to have the conversation in the presence of a third person, a confidential adviser or manager is present. If there are any criminal offenses involved, I will always indicate that they can report these to the police. In case of sexual violence, I will also always refer to the care center for sexual violence. They mainly offer medical care and psychological support, but you can also have your complaint registered with them at the time or at a later date. Finally, there is the sanctioning track, where it is possible to request an internal disciplinary procedure”. Which route is followed is always decided in consultation with the reporter themself. For students, disciplinary proceedings can be initiated in accordance with the disciplinary regulations by the vice rector for education and student policy Jan Danckaert. He is assisted by a legal team. “Because some cases are complex, the procedure must be legally correct. That is also one of the reasons why it can take so long”. Het Meldpunt therefore has no say in this, but can guide the reporter: “I mainly inform people about what the disciplinary procedure entails, what the advantages and disadvantages are and what you can expect.”
“It is not because you are the only one who makes a report that nothing happens with it”
Anonymity as the main concern
Elly emphasizes that someone can always report transgressive behavior anonymously. “You can continue the procedure by name, but you can also remain completely anonymous. In the latter case, the report is anonymized and an attempt is made to distill everything identifiable from a testimony as well.” At the same time, she admits that this anonymity is relative: “From the specific content of the report, it can sometimes be deduced who it is about. That is why we always discuss and look at what we will or will not bring in beforehand, but this is not always easy. I understand that people sometimes prefer to remain anonymous, and that is possible too, but in that case you are limited, because you have to be careful not to give too much concrete information.” The reporter also always chooses what is shared with the person who is being reported: “The reporter must always give their permission for certain information to be shared. I am bound by professional secrecy, so I myself certainly do not pass on any information to the person who is being reported.”
Respect for every report
Elly also emphasises that every report is given attention: “It is not because you are the only one who makes a report that nothing happens with it. What happens next varies from case to case and depends on what the reporter wants. This also applies to former students or employees. What is important is that the report must concern something or someone that is still related to the VUB. “That is sometimes difficult in the case of former students, because some facts are already outdated, so I cannot really do much more than listen to what they have to say. However, they can still report, if only so we can do something at the policy level.”
Elly currently ís het Meldpunt, so there is not really any diversity there
We are left with the question of whether those reports will always be able to be followed up as well as whether every student trusts het Meldpunt enough to make a report. Currently, Elly is the only person responsible for following up and promoting trust. She currently ís het Meldpunt, so there is not really any diversity there. Although there are plans to appoint a second person, that still sounds like a faraway future: “That is something that has to be approved and for which people and resources have to be made available”. On top of that, it remains to be seen how representative the two of them could be in order for any student or staff member to feel safe enough to tell their story. Elly herself states that people can also turn to external channels, such as UNIA or the Institute for Gender Equality, if they do not feel comfortable enough to report it internally. However, shouldn’t promoting students’ sense of safety be a little higher on the agenda?