Groping, drunken sexual advances among complaints against VOLT MP
Complaints of "transgressive behavior" against VOLT parliamentarian Nilüfer Gündogan included sexual harassment, unwanted touching, comments about homosexuality, drunken sexual advances, and angry outbursts, NRC reports after speaking with five of the 13 people who filed complaints against the MP.
VOLT suspended Gündogan over the complaints and asked an agency to investigate. Gündogan fought her suspension in court, which ruled in her favor on Tuesday. Party leader Laurens Dassen reversed the suspension and apologized to Gündogan.
Dassen spoke of "groping, unwelcome sexual advances, intimidation, and abuse of position" when describing the complaints against Gündogan. But this is the first time any of the victims came forward to speak to the press. NRC spoke to five victims and five other directly-involved people. They asked to remain anonymous, saying that Gündogan has many friends in the party, including financiers.
Several people told NRC about Gündogan getting drunk at her birthday party on 6 June 2020. They saw her falling around people's necks, talking about her sex life. She kissed one VOLT employee on the neck. That was not the first time this man faced unwanted sexual behavior from Gündogan, he said to NRC. In 2019, Gündogan, in a drunken state, put an arm around his waist and told him how she hadn't had sex for a long time and wanted to have sex with him, he said. "I didn't talk to anyone about it. Then I had to confront it. I thought: don't pretend. I also thought this would be an important time; we need her in parliament. I convinced myself it wasn't bad."
Another VOLT employee who spent a lot of time around Gündogan said he got a phone call late in the evening - Gündogan proposing a sexual encounter. He, too, laughed it off until a colleague pointed out the inappropriateness. Other VOLT employees also report drunken sexual advances after party rallies in Sofia, Rome, and Lisbon. One female employee recounted a trip to Lisbon. "We hugged. I was tipsy myself. It became very intimate," she said. Gündogan put her hands on her butt during that embrace. "It was almost funny at the time. Later I thought: what if a man had done this?"
Another employee said Gündogan intimidated her over a long period. "We were together a lot in one room, and then Nilüfer hit me on the butt multiple times." The employee was 17 at the time. "I'm pretty sure it didn't happen with sexual intent. It was clearly intended as intimidation. It startled me. I remember I was making tea. She stood next to me and said: Are you feeling it today? And then a slap." The employee told Dassen and two other colleagues, who advised her to confront Gündogan.
During a VOLT team-building weekend in the runup to the parliamentary elections, the young employee told the group that she did not feel respected by Gündogan. "She became furious and scolded me. She called me a snot-nose, a kid. Said I was dangerous to the party and that I had to listen to her." The young woman burst out in tears. No one intervened, she said.
Another colleague complained about Gündogan continually making comments about his homosexuality, even after he asked her not to. She continued to call him "girl," also in front of others. She also touched his butt in the hallway of parliament, he said. Other colleagues confirmed that this employee, initially friends with Gündogan, increasingly became her target. She told others that he was a bad employee and made multiple unsuccessful requests for the VOLT leadership to give him an official warning and for his contract to not be extended. He still works at VOLT but in another department.
Multiple sources told NRC that Gündogan made comments on her colleagues' appearance. MP Marieke Koekkoek looked unkempt, she said, Dassen had to eat more because he was too skinny. In text messages, she made jokes about female politicians she thought overweight.
According to the newspaper, VOLT employees are upset that the party leadership intervened late or not at all, creating the idea that Gündogan's behavior was tolerated.
The VOLT board and Dassen acknowledged to NRC that they "underestimated the risks of the behavior exhibited by Nilüfer." "We, therefore, offer our apologies to all complainants and everyone affected by this," they said, according to the newspaper. "We will not fail to draw the necessary consequences from the outcome."
Nevertheless, Gündogan is back at VOLT after the court ruling last week. The day before the verdict, five of those who filed a complaint against Gündogan - not those who spoke to NRC - wrote a letter to the party board asking for "protection" and whether the board would guarantee their "safety," according to the newspaper. They said they worried about Gündogan's response to their complaints.
When asked for a response, Gündogan told NRC that there is "a smear campaign" against her. "People want me to stop as a parliamentarian." She feels like she's "fighting ghosts" because the party won't tell her who filed complaints against her. She's filed a complaint against VOLT and Dassen for libel and slander.