Me Too

I, too, have a story of abuse to tell. Since 2007, I have been emotionally abused by bosses and staff at the Lemmens Institute of music and drama in Leuven, now part of the LUCA School of Arts, the arts faculty of Leuven University. All the classics from the handbook on the abuse of power are there: lying, manipulating and isolating, threatening and intimidating, and placing the blame for what is happening on the victim himself.

For eleven years, I have been denouncing this undeserved and unfair treatment. I have called the perpetrators themselves to account frequently and in all kinds of ways – always without any result. I have told my story to various people and bodies both inside and outside the institution but this, too, never led to the desired result: recovery, atonement, some slight degree of justice.

For years this made me feel bad every hour of the day. I experienced long periods of severe depression, with feelings of failure, guilt, anxiety, frustration, bitterness and anger that I was unable to shake off. For extended periods I was unfit for work, although I carried on as well as I could with my freelance work, mainly for the Psallentes ensemble. (These activities earn me income that I cannot do without and I also have a responsibility as an employer). Since 2010, I have been receiving intensive support from a therapist.

I often find support and understanding from friends and colleagues but unfortunately there are also many who prefer to look away when they notice that you are involved in a fight with the gods. So dozens of my friendships and work relations have been disrupted or destroyed. And I am no longer able to enter the workplace itself – too much trauma.

You see people think – or they literally say to you – that there are two sides to every story, that there is no smoke without fire. That’s true: I have the fire of commitment, of involvement, of insight into how an organisation is malfunctioning, of annoyance about decisions that have not been thought through, of indignation about wrongs. I was naive and stupid enough not to lower myself to become a yes-man, but on the contrary to offer resistance. I could have expected somewhat that I could be in for a rude awakening, but I did not at all foresee the slyness and treachery that went with this.

It is no coincidence that I began this message with the words Me Too. Under this painful name, countless disconcerting stories have come to our knowledge recently about sexual abuse. Prior to that, we also had terrible accounts of child abuse. I think it is now high time for a new hashtag, again with a theme, so that stories about classic abuse of power can come to light as well. This sort of abuse, although not physical, often also has very serious consequences.

I believe that a new style of exercising power is needed, or rather a new way of cooperating, with shared responsibility, with far fewer intermediate levels, with far fewer committees and meetings, with reductions in scale, with fast rotating leadership. All things that could start us on the way to that which many of us urgently need: a friendly, open, pleasant, satisfying work environment.

Hendrik Elie Vanden Abeele, 5 February 2018

7 thoughts on “Me Too

Add yours

  1. Dear Hendrik,

    I always and always will admire you!
    Je hebt je frustraties inderdaad al een hele tijd geleden geuit en ik voel met je mee dat het nog steeds hoog zit. Het fijne weet ik er absoluut niet van en zijn mijn zaken niet, maar ik wil je wel laten weten dat ik enorm veel van jou heb geleerd (en het ook spijtig vind dat dat niet meer gebeurd).
    Ik wil je enkel een hart onder de riem geven en hoop dat je ‘hen’ en ‘het’ een ‘kick in the ass’ kan geven.

    Meevoelende, hartverwarmende knuffel,
    Rein.

  2. Dear Hendrik

    Violence, sexual abuse and emotional abuse all are connected to power and power abuse. You are right to address this, unfortunately the latter is much more difficult to unmask and fight. I wish you be heard and get reparation for the wrong that has been done to you. You have all my sympathy. All best.

    Petra

  3. My advice is not to take it personally. Several
    of my relatives in the previous generation were
    professors at universities, and many of them
    experienced similar situations. My father told me that
    almost every university department has infighting
    and territorial battles; it is very rare to find a department
    where the people are friendly to one another.
    Unfortunately, even if the people involved are
    intelligent, this kind of negative behaviour is a feature
    of most bureaucracies, including universities.

    The important thing is to have a strategy to handle it.
    In a figurative sense, hold your head up, smile at those
    you work with, and don’t show them you are afraid! You
    happen to be exceptionally inspired and talented, so it is
    not surprising that some of your colleagues might feel
    jealous and perceive you as a threat to their own
    professional standing. It is often the case that anyone
    with original ideas has to be careful to express these
    in non-threatening ways, since less insightful people often
    feel insecure, and react with negative behaviour.

    You have many fans and admirers; you just need to
    develop a strategy to have a constructive approach
    to your work situation and not let it deprive you of your
    joy in life. For instance, some professors say that if they
    find even one or two students each year who have the
    talent and ability to learn, this is something positive, from
    which they can get job satisfaction.

    Good luck!

    Mary

  4. Dear Hendrik,

    I have been aware of your trials for some time now; I am saddened to learn that this state of affairs shows no signs of being resolved. You are the victim of psychological abuse, and in my opinion should seek professional help in the form of a union. Your only fault, in a country where attempts to rise above mediocrity are severely punished, was to attempt to guide your students to a better understanding of their subject — which was after all your mandate.
    You have my tacit support in your struggle to obtain justice from a hidebound hierarchical system.

    Best wishes,

    Conor

  5. Sterke getuigenis … getuigt van sterkte (hoewel je je waarschijnlijk vaak niet zo voelt). Blijf die sterkte, kracht voelen/halen uit de dingen die het leven waard zijn.
    Britt

  6. You have many, friends Hendrik, around the world and we all respect and admire you. This forum only serves to underscore your dedication and commitment, and your inner strength by sharing your own personal experience about another classic form of harassment and abuse – that of the abuse of power. I applaud you for this.

    I hope you find the continued strength and support you need to resolve this situation quickly and above all the peace to continue your wonderful work.

    My thoughts are with you.
    Judy

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