Legien Schenk is influencer and activist and fights for putting an end to sexual harassment and violence. Next to that, she stands by people who’ve experienced an unpleasant sexual experience. As someone who knows from own experience how bad the legal process after such an trauma can be, she decided to put matters into her own hands and uses her gained knowledge to help other people who have similar experiences. Recently, a new law was adapted in the Netherlands, called "sex against your will”, whereby all forms of involuntary sex will be prosecutable. We asked Legien all about her work, experiences and her vision on the new law.
You’re nationally known as the MeToo-influencer. Where does this name come from?
Before I started doing what I do now, I worked in a whole other field, as an IT consultant. I stopped two years ago and decided to completely change my career. I thought: what am I going to do in this field of sexuality and sexual violence? What should I call myself? I’ve been there myself, I experienced this, I have a lot of valuable experiences. It can be very valuable to share your personal experiences when people are looking for a role model or have a similar story. Next to that, I see myself as an intermediary between people who’ve had a bad sexual experience and want to do something about this. Sometimes you don’t know where to seek help or how you can seek help. It can be very nice to brainstorm with someone about this. I’m a certified confidant and I have completed an education as walking buddy, so I can use my experience to help people with starting a conversation. In addition, I thought: my ambition is more than only helping people individually. I want to influence society – in politics, legislation, policies, everything. A friend asked me: “if you want to influence all these things, aren’t you an influencer?” I started to think about it and came to the conclusion that maybe being an influencer is exactly what it is. I know you can’t please everyone, but even if there are a few people who say they’re inspired by me or think the work I do is beautiful… that means so much.
You contribute to, among other things, the amendment of 'sex against your will'. With this amendment of the law, all forms of involuntary sex in the Netherlands will be prosecutable. When exactly do we call sex involuntary?
Of course, there is a distinction in this definition between what’s stated in the law and your own emotional experience. I think your own emotional experience is always prominent, and the law should only be needed when it went wrong. If something went wrong, really wrong, it’s important that the law describes very well what the degree of punishment is.
If you don't want someone to do something, to put it simply, they shouldn't. So if I didn’t want to do this interview, then I wouldn’t have said you could interview me. Well, that is clear, and so there is no wrongdoing there. That is just sensing of, and we can simply indicate what we do or do not want. In reality this can be a bit complicated, because we know from science that a lot of people react with a Freeze response.
Is it important that there’s more knowledge about this Freeze response?
Absolutely. I think it’s important to share statistics about this. Almost 70% of the people who experienced something with sexually transgressive behavior had a Freeze response during the rape or abuse - almost 3 out of 4 people. Little is known about the freeze reaction, but what is even more unknown is that instead of freezing you can also cooperate. This happens because you choose a construct in which you see the greatest chance of survival. I think it’s really important to talk more about this and use science to support this. Currently it’s still the case that if you want to report a criminal offense to the police, for example of rape, (what we as society experience as rape - the involuntary entry of your body by someone or something else) you have to prove for the law this happened with violence or coiercion.
Is that still the case for the Dutch law at the moment?
Yes, at the moment it is. So suppose there has been violence but it cannot be proven, it’s not called rape. And I think that's actually another traumatizing event. Because with that, the victim is not recognized and the law doesn’t support the victim. In the new law this violence component will be cancelled and violence during rape will be referred to as ‘additional violence’. On behalf of Amnesty, I and seven other activists fight for the amendment of 'sex against your will'. At one point we were part of a discussion with members of the House of Representatives. Someone asked: “what if there has been no violence?” Another activist responded with: “Wait, a rape in itself - entering someone's body against someone's will, that’s using violence. That’s already violent.”. If there are other forms of violence during a rape, those should be called additional forms of violence. The rape itself has already been an act of violence. Words can be really powerful and should be well thought out.
This article is part of a series in which we asked Legien Schenk about her experiences as a Metoo-coach and influencer. We believe talking about this can empower women in speaking more about this subject, share stories and help eachother. Have you’ve ever had a bad sexual experience or need someone to talk to, please feel free to seek help by one of the organizations below.
Globally: Sexual Violence Helpline – Call Freephone 0808 801 0770
Netherlands: Call 0800-0188 to talk anonymous and for free with Centrum Seksueel Geweld
Photo by ⓒicnyogaphotography