Sophie was cycling alone late at night just outside Wageningen when she was attacked by a man. She managed to get away. ‘I think he wanted to rape me. But what would he have done afterwards?’
Text: Luuk Zegers Photo: Sven Menschel
Sophie cycles past the spot where she was attacked late at night on 21 August.
It’s 23:50 on Wednesday evening, 21 August. Master’s student Sophie (22) is cycling back home from the Binnenveld, the rural area north of Wageningen. She has been visiting a friend who lives in a student residence there. She cycles along the northern part of the Dijkgraaf road, which does not have any street lighting. ‘That unlit area is always a bit scary, but I thought: there’s nothing to be scared of here, right?’
Then she sees a parked car. ‘That surprised me, because who has any reason to be there at that time of night?’ She keeps cycling, but after five metres a masked man suddenly appears out of the dark. ‘He was wearing a balaclava, had a kind of stick in his hand and he ran up against me.’ Sophie ends up in the verge but manages to stay on her bicycle. She quickly cycles off, the adrenaline pumping through her veins.
‘I didn’t have my phone with me,’ Sophie says. ‘But when I got to the Northwest district I ran into two people. They called 112 and we waited for the police together.’ While they wait for the police to arrive, two women cycle past. ‘They came from the same direction as me, but they didn’t see anyone.’
When the police arrive, they drive with Sophie to the place where the man appeared out of the dark. The car is gone and there is no one around, so the police cannot do much. ‘I wanted to make an official report, but the officers said it’s pointless if you don’t know who the perpetrator is. The next day, I decided to go to the police station to make a report anyway, because I wanted to do something. After waiting for a long time I was told again that it would be pointless. A few days later the police came to my house to draft a special police report, so they are working on it, but at that point it felt like they weren’t taking it very seriously.’
No reason to be afraid
The day after the incident, Sophie wrote about what happened to her. She isn’t on Facebook herself, so her roommate posted her story in the Wageningen Student Plaza group. ‘I didn’t want to scare anyone unnecessarily, but I thought it would be a good idea to warn people. The attack seemed so organized and well thought out. And I also think that person didn’t get what he was after. Maybe he’ll try it again.’
In the five years that she has lived in Wageningen, Sophie has never felt unsafe before. ‘You don’t really think that something like that can happen here. But it can.’ She notices that she feels different now when she goes out at night. ‘I always have my phone with me. If you end up in a suspicious situation, you can at least pretend you’re calling someone, or actually call someone. That might scare the person off.’
Sophie will probably avoid cycling past the scene of the incident at night from now on. Yet she doesn’t want to lose her freedom of movement. ‘I don’t want to feel afraid the entire time; to have that one person take away your freedom. In the town centre it’s lit up everywhere and there are always people around. If you walk through the high street and someone bothers you, you can always scream loudly.’
Apart from the shock, Sophie also feels a lot of frustration. ‘Perhaps the most annoying thing is that there are no clues whatsoever. I can’t do anything. Someone like that can just do what they want. I think he wanted to rape me. But what would he have done afterwards? Would he get in the car and drive away when he’s done? Or would you end up in a ditch? You just don’t know. That’s the scary part.’
Sophie is a fictitious name. The student’s real name is known to the editors.
Three violent incidents in one week
The fourth week of August was a notably violent week in the generally quiet town of Wageningen.
1. On Saturday 17 August, at around 23:30, a 21-year-old student was robbed of her handbag on Haarweg. The perpetrator threatened her with a weapon.
2. At about 23:50 on Wednesday 21 August, student Sophie was attacked by a man wearing a balaclava at the point where Dijkgraaf and Plassteeg meet (see interview).
3. On Saturday 24 August, at about 23:30, three men with a weapon tried to rob a 22-year-old female student on Haarweg.
It is unclear whether the cases are linked. The police are investigating. They ask anyone who has seen something suspicious to contact them by calling 0900-8844 or completing the digital tip form. The police also ask people to be extra alert and to call the emergency number 112 if there is trouble. Student accommodation provider Idealis has opened a safer bike path to Haarweg 333 across its own terrain. WUR has instructed security staff to patrol Haarweg and the edges of the campus more frequently.