‘I am not a victim’

Student Linde helps others as ‘experience expert’

When Linde Bijkerk was eighteen she was confronted with sexual abuse. She decided to turn this terrible incident into something she could help others with. She does this via a project for ‘experience experts’ within her study programme.

“I ran into an old acquaintance at the pub. We chatted outside as we had trouble understanding each other inside, but all of a sudden he aggressively pulled me with him. I wasn’t physically strong enough to resist. I went home in a daze and I didn’t talk about it for a week. I wanted to forget, but I started to get nightmares, cried a lot and was very on edge. I trusted the manager of the hair salon I was interning at with my story. It was because of this conversation that I realised how angry I was. Extremely angry. And I wanted to press charges, so he could be punished.”

His word against hers
But the offender was never charged.
Linde, who is now 25 years old says: “It was his word against mine, so for me it is now just something I need to carry around with me, just like other experiences in life. I am not a victim. I am Linde.”
Back then the rape was something she was ashamed of, but nowadays she has no trouble speaking about it. “I have been able to accept that it has happened.”
Soon after the incident, Linde decided to drop out of her hair styling course at MBO-school Landstede. “Customers can tell their how life’s story in the hair dresser’s chair, which can be very heavy sometimes. I found this very hard, because I couldn’t help them. I wanted to mean something to these people instead of just standing there, doing their hair. I found it too shallow, which is why I dropped out of that course and switched to a social care course at Landstede and eventually enrolled in the Social Work course at Windesheim.”

Shame and shock
Linde has transformed the terrible incident into something positive: her mission is to offer a safe haven to as many people as possible. She’s now in the last semester of her study programme and has chosen the ‘experience expert’ graduation profile. This profile teaches Social Work students who have come into contact with, for example, (sexual) abuse or addiction, to use their experience for the better in a professional way in their field of work.
Linde has already been able to help clients during her internships.
“I’m learning to use my own experience, without immediately having to tell my whole story. An example would be that one victim of sexual abuse had felt that she hadn’t offered enough resistance and she was ashamed of this. I could tell her from my own experience that it is normal to go into shock and just undergo what’s happening. You touch someone when sharing a personal experience, no matter how small. Nowadays, she isn’t ashamed anymore of what happened to her and that is amazing to see!”

Intensive project
Linde’s graduation project consisted of developing information material for Windesheim. “When I was looking for a Social Work study programme, I stumbled upon Windesheim. This was the only university of applied sciences that offered experience expertise next to the normal curriculum. At first I thought I could only choose it as an extra course, which would only consists of a handful of meetings. But there also appeared to be a graduation profile you can do during the entire duration of the study programme. It’s a very intensive profile. I found that both the long and short profile deserved more attention. This is why I created promotional material as well as an informational video.”

Breaking down the circle of violence
Linde has also noticed something within her field of work: “One experience expert has followed a short course, another one has a HBO-degree. There is constant discussion about when you can really call yourself an experience expert.”
Because of this, Linde notices a huge gap between professional therapists and experience experts. “They feel threatened by each other. Experience experts say that professional therapists don’t know what it’s like to be the victim and professional therapists say that experience experts don’t have the professional knowledge to help clients.”
That’s why Linde founded a group for every professional therapist  who has affinity with experience expertise. “We’re now busy organising an informal meeting with interesting guest speakers from the work field. I want to connect the groups. Because both groups will benefit a lot more from that.”
Thanks to her internship, Linde knows what she wants to do after graduating: “Work with systemic therapy: not just helping the client, but all the other people involved as well. The offender as well. Often, an offender is also a victim of domestic abuse themselves.
It’s a pattern that’s engraved into that person’s system. I want to break down that circle of violence. No one should be afraid of his or her partner, parent of child.”

Janine Sterenborg

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