One month ago, the Netherlands was shaken by their own huge #MeToo scandal. Over ten million people watched the video ‘This is The Voice’ by YouTube channel #Boos (translation: #Angry) from broadcasting company BNNVARA. In this video, structural sexual harassment and abuse of power by coaches and staff members were revealed. Never had the Netherlands faced a scandal regarding sexual harassment this big in their own little country. The #MeToo movement had, for many people, always been far away. ‘America is different from the Netherlands’. Until now.
The Netherlands’ Turn
Our country had to face it: sexual abuse is a structural problem in the Netherlands too. Many people have obviously known this for a while because they experienced it or had seen the numbers of cases reported in the Netherlands before. But now it got to everybody. This is not about big American Hollywood actors only. Abuse of power happens here too, in a family show that millions of people watch and that attracts many generations. Maybe that is why this case involved so many people, there were famous people belonging to almost every generation involved. The discussions in the Netherlands immediately took off.
Before I get into the discussions and consequences of the outing of this scandal, I will give you a summary of what exactly happened.
In the spring of 2021, the online program #BOOS receives a message from two girls who say to have been sexually abused by a coach from The Voice of Holland. #BOOS is a TV program where people mail them something they are angry about or a problem they have. The program will then try to help solve it. In this case, solving their complaints required a lot of work. And so they went on to dive deep into the world of The Voice and figure out what went on behind the scenes. In an online request, they asked people if they were or knew someone who had entered or worked at a talent show where things that happened behind the curtains weren’t right. After their request for people to share their stories, they saw that most of the stories they received were about The Voice of Holland.
It seemed that the allegations were not against one coach, but against several coaches and other men who worked at The Voice of Holland. In slightly different ways multiple men in important positions have sexually intimidated young girls and women that entered or worked at the show. By now, several people have taken their story to court and that process is still going on. However, with the journalistic work #BOOS has conducted and the many ways they have tried to verify the stories, it is safe to say that something has really been off behind the scenes of The Voice of Holland. #BOOS collected many resources from people that were on The Voice of Holland, but also people who have dealt with similar behavior patterns from these coaches in different situations.
And this got me wondering, will our own scandal finally change anything in the Netherlands?
Soon after, discussions took off in The Netherlands. Wasn’t this trial by media? Why didn’t these stories come out earlier? Luckily, the discussions mostly tackled more important issues. How could this have happened? What is victim blaming and why shouldn’t we do it? How can we work on solving this problem? The way these discussions came up showed me the first sign of the way we talked about this topic in The Netherlands.
Since this first big scandal, many more accuses of sexual abuse within workplaces have made it out into the open. Similar stories have been experienced within many branches such as political parties, professional sports. This can be seen as a sign for both the Netherlands for people in powerful positions that we have a structural problem and that not all behavior is allowed and it will not be without consequences anymore.
The call center of Centrum Seksueel Geweld (Centre of Sexual Violence) also ran overtime the days after the video was released. Showing that many people realized that they had experienced similar issues in the past. Maybe for some people, the video has been a wake-up call about what behavior we sometimes see as normal is actually not acceptable.
Undoubtedly, for many workplaces, a safe environment is currently high on the agenda. Our politicians are also working on broader rules and solutions for this problem. There is also hope for a little change in perception. Maybe this issue has made people more aware of the things that can go wrong within organizations. Men can be more aware of their behavior, and women know they won’t always stand alone when they speak up.
To me, it was a hopeful sign that this scandal was mostly taken very seriously. There were some complaints or disagreements but in general, people stood by the women in this story. There was a more general consensus about this being a problem a few years ago when discussions from America maneuvered their way to The Netherlands. Back then, a way more heard reaction was ‘Can I not give a compliment to a colleague anymore?’. This change of discussions is root for some hope. Together with better policy and an improvement of workplaces, there might actually be a start for change. Let’s work for it and change things this time.
Do you want to talk to someone about sexual abuse? Call the Dutch phone number of the Centre of Sexual Violence (+31 887555588) or access their website for immediate assistance.
Cover: Suvan Chowdhury
Edited by Alexa Ciociu