Students and #MeToo

Every day, the editorial staff at the UKrant wonders: What are we writing about, why are we writing about it, and how are we writing about it? A look behind the scenes.

On Wednesday, UKrant published the first part in a two-part story on sexually transgressive behaviour as experienced by students in Groningen (the second part will be published on Wednesday, 30 January). The article was based on a large survey we had disseminated and to which nearly six hundred students had responded.

The results are fairly shocking: four out of ten students who filled out the survey have their own experiences with #MeToo. For most of them, it involved unwanted touching, sexually charged remarks, or pushy flirting, but some of them experienced stalking, intimidation, or rape.

The article, which took approximately three months to come together, was met with praise, for which we are grateful. But some people were unhappy about the way we presented the subject. According to our critics the image accompanying the piece (a cleavage besieged by a grabbing hand) was in poor taste, and the headline (‘Raped in your own bed’) was painful, especially to those who had had similar experiences.

‘It feeds into the fear that many women have: that we’re not safe anywhere’, one person responded. Someone else said: ‘I don’t appreciate receiving an e-mail in my inbox with the subject line “Raped in your own bed”. Please exercise some restraint in the future.’

The issue led to discussion among the editors. Did we make a mistake? Should we have exercised more restraint, especially given the sensitive subject? Was our presentation, our use of words and image, too harsh or inappropriate?

The editors couldn’t quite agree on the use of the image. In hindsight, some of them understand the criticism. Concerning the headline: we understand that some of our readers were shocked by it. Nevertheless, we stand by our decision. We wanted to show how serious this issue is. We wanted to talk about what’s going on without having to resort to a thesaurus.

UKrant news coordinator Thereza Langeler, who created the survey and wrote the article, describes the issue thusly: ‘We wanted to stay away from empty euphemisms that tend to cloud the seriousness of things. “MeToo” shouldn’t just be a buzzword. It’s about the terrible things that people can do to each other. It was our intention to make our readers aware of that from the very start of the article.’

Someone suggested including a kind of ‘trigger warning’ for these kinds of intense subjects, like the news does sometimes (‘the following report contains shocking images’). It allows the viewer to change the channel, turn off the sound, or look away. It’s a nice idea, but not as easy to implement in the case of written articles.

Finally, some elucidations on the research set-up; we received several critical remarks on this as well.

In one of the boxes below the article, we explain that our sample is not representative. Therefore, we did not conclude that four out of ten students experienced unpleasant behaviour, but that four out of ten of the respondents to our survey had such an experience.

Does that mean that our numbers are unreliable because they’re too high (over-reporting), or because they’re too low (under-reporting)? We have presented them as they are, no more, no less. They speak for themselves. Before publishing the article, we submitted the results of the survey to a statistician in order to interpret them properly.

Rob Siebelink, editor-in-chief UKrant


25 January 2019