Sexual harassment problems at Maastricht theater school since 2005: report

The Theater Academy Maastricht has been aware of sexual harassment problems and a culture of intimidation at the school since 2005, the Volkskrant reports based on a report external healthcare psychologist Ton van Keulen sent to the Executive Board of the school and the school's response.

The Executive Board said in a letter that the school management would be "very alert" to signals of intimidation and will "actively look for it". That did not happen, apparently. Six months after Van Keulen sent this report in 2005, he sent a letter stating that there was no reason to think "that the culture of intimidation with boundary crossing behavior will change", according to the newspaper. He asked that the identification and handling of such behavior be taken out of the hands of teachers and the school management, saying that they are part of the problem.

It wasn't until November 2017 that a teacher, who was accused of sexually harassing behavior by students for years, was suspended. The school came into action after school staff reported possible undesirable behavior by the teacher during a group lesson last year. 

Between 1992 and 2012 at least 10 students reported boundary crossing behavior at the school, according to the Volkskrant's own research. Reports involved a teacher that touched students' genitals and showered with them after lessons, relationships between teachers and students, and intimidating remarks. The reports were made to a school confidant, training coordinator, the school director or to student mentors. The student council also informed the school management about problems, according to the newspaper.

The students the Volkskrant spoke to said they are disappointed in how the school handled their reports. "We are not talking about a multinational here, but a college education where only 40 students studied in the entire actors' training. With a confidential advisor, a coordinator and a director, there should have been enough time and opportunity to investigate what was going on after a number of complaints", one former student said to the newspaper. 

Zuyd University of Applied Sciences, which Theater Academy forms part of, launched an investigation into sexual harassment by teachers. The results are expected later this month. 

The school always tried to create the safest possible climate for students, former director Leo Swinkels said to the Volkskrant. "Where necessary I took measures that matched the nature of these signals", he said. Measures were taken against the teacher suspended last year, for example. He was banned from physically correcting students and showering with them. A separate shower was even built for him. "Now that several reports have been received recently after seven years, the measures taken earlier seem to ave been inadequate. As far as I am concerned, it is up to the investigation to pass judgment on this", Swinkels said. 

Reports of sexual misconduct by teachers previously also came from theater schools in Amsterdam and Arnhem.