Sexual harassment in the city centre of Enschede is the rule rather than the exception, says Van der Houwen. ‘Since the corona outbreak I have been back in Enschede for a week now. I live at the Korte Hengelosestraat, right in the centre, and every day I walk to the Jumbo in Noorderhagen for my groceries. In the past week I have been confronted by men every day on the way there and on the way back. Even during the day. They shout things like: “If you were a little older, I would have hit on you.” Or: “Let me eat your pussy.” That's terribly humiliating. It makes me incredibly angry.’
Van der Houwen shared her experiences with friends at a ‘year club’ night. ‘Almost everyone had the same story about sexual harassment. It goes beyond words. Some were also physically touched. That's not okay. Female students no longer dare to walk alone from the Oude Markt to their house in the city centre. That's ridiculous. I'm not willing to accept this. That's why I started a petition.’
According to the psychology student, the municipality and the police in Enschede are doing far too little so far. ‘Personally, I haven't gone to the police yet, but I know from people who report sexual harassment that very little happens with their reports. A student house in the city centre even reports the practices in Noorderhagen every day, with no result.’
The petition, which has been online since Thursday morning, has already been signed over five hundred times. 'It's going very fast. By the way, I also get a lot of reactions from men. They're very sorry to hear it, because they often don't know what's going on. Nothing is shouted at them on the street. With the petition I want to go to the municipality. This big problem needs more attention. I want the municipality to take action, for example by increasing police control. As inhabitants of Enschede we want to make a statement. It's our right.'
UPDATE 5 JUNE, 12:41: LOCAL POLITICIANS RESPOND
Local politicians of the VVD and PvdA say they are shocked by the outcry and want action to be taken against the sexual harassment of women in Enschede. At the time of writing, the petition has already been signed almost five thousand times.