The thieves are back
‘It’s terrible to be violated like that’
A calm February night in Groningen. From the city centre, Elisa cycles in the direction of her boyfriend’s house. She passes the McDonalds Westerhaven, where she notices a man with a dark hood on his head getting on an old, white omafiets. She has an uneasy feeling about it, but shrugs it off and continues on her way.
She crosses the Abel Tasman bridge and cycles along the Van Heemskerckstraat. The man on the white bike is still cycling behind her. She’s almost at her boyfriend’s. Then, she hears the bike accelerating behind her. She sticks out her arm to indicate and starts to turn left. The hooded man drives into her from the side at full speed.
As she falls, the man snatches Elisa’s blue shoulder bag, which is slung over her left shoulder. She looks up in shock to see the hooded man riding away on his bike. Her wallet, Canon camera, her favourite clothes – all gone. Her bike lies crippled on the ground and her shoulder and leg hurt.
‘I called my boyfriend and started to cry’, the Dutch UCG student recalls. ‘I hardly slept that night.’ Since then, Elisa has felt more anxious about going outside after dark and doesn’t cycle alone at night anymore. The police haven’t been able to apprehend the robber and that worries her.
Her friends were just as stunned as she was when she told them what had happened. ‘In Groningen?’ was a common reaction. ‘I also didn’t think something like that would happen to me in my small student town’, Elisa admits.
I didn’t think something like that would happen in my small student town
That’s not strange, because during the Covid years, there was notably less crime. Compared to 2019, the number of felonies went down by 13 percent during 2020 and 2021, meaning students who came to the city after early 2020 experienced Groningen as a relatively low-crime zone. Now that petty crime numbers are at the pre-pandemic level again, they are unpleasantly surprised.
Although crime rates in Groningen are significantly lower than ten years ago – and there are fewer cases of theft, burglary, and robbery than in many other of the bigger cities in the Netherlands – it negatively outperforms the Dutch average and has done so since 2012. The total number of crimes in Groningen in the first quarter of this year, for example, stood at 153.29 per 10,000 citizens, compared to 112.54 in the whole of the Netherlands.
Pick-pocketing has been especially on the rise in Groningen recently. In the first quarter, 120 cases were recorded, which means that a little over five people out of every 10,000 citizens were victimised. In the whole of the Netherlands, that number stood at 1.77 out of 10,000.
Media student Lynn Grünhagen was one of the victims: her phone and ID were stolen from her bag in nightclub Oost. When she was able to check her phone’s location in the morning, she discovered it was at a refugee home in Assen. She didn’t manage to get it back, though: her phone ended up in Morocco.
The police didn’t seem to feel like doing much about it
The Dutch police’s lack of action frustrated her. Since the ID that had been stolen was German, she reported the theft to both the Dutch and the German police. ‘The Germans were very helpful and advised me on how to handle the Dutch police, because they didn’t seem to feel like doing much about it.’ She felt very much left alone, she says. ‘That made me very mad. The police seem to be happy to charge you for drinking in public, but when you actually need help, they close their eyes.’
Like Elisa, Lynn was also affected by the incident. ‘I feel a lot more anxious when going out nowadays. I constantly check my bag and I also avoid the clubs in the city centre. My friends were all really shocked as well, because we all felt so safe in this city.’
Hungarian student Dorjan became paranoid after his house was burglarised last autumn. He had never even considered it could happen to him, he says. ‘The entire thing came as a shock; I had never experienced something like that before. I was in a complete state of panic.’
He came back from a meeting at the Forum and noticed things were off. ‘My vacuum cleaner was gone and its contents had been dumped out on the floor.’ His Philips razor was also stolen, as well as an envelope with money. ‘I’m not yet financially independent, so those losses brought me a great deal of stress.’
For weeks afterwards, he felt ‘strong waves of stress, guilt, and fear’, which he’s still not entirely over. And while he’s happy with the help of the police, his case, like the other students’, remains unsolved and was filed away.
Pick-pocketing and bike theft
‘I feel like more students are becoming the victim of a crime’, Elisa observes. And although the police can’t speak to that, because they don’t break down the data according to victims’ characteristics, it is true that the types of crime students are perhaps most likely to be confronted with, pick-pocketing and bike theft, have jumped since the Covid years. Pick-pocketing cases rose by 112 percent in 2022 compared to 2020 and 2021, bike and scooter theft by 35 percent.
I feel like more students are becoming the victim of a crime
Dorjan wouldn’t be surprised if students are also more likely to be the victim of a break-in, he says. ‘Their homes may not have the best doors and lock systems.’ Typical student housing complexes may also leave its residents vulnerable, as Elisa points out. ‘You are dependent on the owner for security measures and a lot of people can get access to the building very easily.’
As for street crime, well, students do go out at night more than the average person, says Dorjan. ‘We have all heard about attacks and assaults in certain areas of the city.’
Lynn agrees: ‘Many students drink often and are not very cautious. I feel like that makes them an easy target.’
Dorjan stresses the importance of taking safety precautions. ‘In my case, I could have double-locked my door from the get-go, I could have stored my money in a safer place.’ He also feels that the UG should point out things like that to new students.
Elisa hopes that her experience serves as a reminder to others to be cautious. ‘It’s a terrible feeling to be violated like that’, she says. ‘But by sharing my story, I hope to raise awareness and encourage others to take the necessary precautions to stay safe.’
Elisa and Dorjan requested a pseudonym because of safety concerns.
Tips from the police
How to avoid being pick-pocketed
- Wear your bag in front of you, with the closure towards your body
- Take as few valuables as possible with you and keep them out of sight
- Don’t put your phone or wallet in your back pocket
- Install a ‘find my phone’ app so it can be tracked when it is stolen
How to prevent a break-in
- Close windows and doors properly, even if you are only gone for a short time
- Keep valuable equipment, such as laptops and iPads, out of sight
- Leave a lamp on when it’s dark and you’re not home, so it looks like someone is there
- Don’t hide house keys under a doormat or in a flower pot
- Be careful what you share on social media about expensive possessions such as precious watches and smartphones