Sidney Smeets: between legality and morality
“Ik moet me een beetje inhouden op Twitter natuurlijk maar damn wat zijn jouw foto’s goed…” “Omg zo lief wow dit had ik echt nodig Sidney dankjewel xx.’' “Wat ik dus wil zeggen, en dat doe ik DM omdat het anders nóg creepier over zou kunnen komen: je bent echt super knap.”
“I have to contain myself on Twitter obviously but damn your pictures are so good... “Omg so sweet wow I really needed this Sidney thank you xx’’ “What I wanted to say, and I’m doing this via DM because it would look even creepier otherwise: you’re really hot.’’
This is (a translation of) a private chat from the summer of 2018, between Sidney Smeets and the then 17-year-old Quinten. He published a screenshot of this conversation on Twitter last Tuesday.
Smeets, a top lawyer and former Member of Parliament for the progressive liberal D66, was accused of sexually inappropriate behavior by multiple young men, some of which were minors at the time of the incident. A few of them posted the suggestive or explicit messages they had received from Smeets (45) on Twitter. They claim that Smeets abused their vulnerable position as young queer men and imposed himself onto them. After Smeets sent private messages of a sexually suggestive nature, he would often ask the boys to meet, which happened occasionally. Smeets stepped down as a Member of Parliament last Thursday, after being sworn into office fifteen days prior. On Friday, Spong Advocaten notified that he will not be returning to the law firm. Smeets’ response to the accusations? The accusations saddened him because he never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, and he never (knowingly) acted unlawfully.
Smeets’ response to these horrible accusations of grooming shows a lack of moral awareness and empathy for the victims. The issue should not necessarily be whether his actions were within the boundaries of the law, but whether his actions were in any way morally acceptable. The fact that there is a clear power imbalance between a successful lawyer in his forties and a late teenager/young adult, or the fact that young people in the LGBTQIA+ community are especially vulnerable targets for predators as a result of (constant) marginalization, were completely disregarded in Smeets’ statement. Not to mention that Smeets, as a criminal attorney who has defended multiple sexual offenders, has extensive knowledge of the law when it comes to sexual misconduct and therefore may have been testing the limits of the law but very consciously not overstepping the legal boundaries.
Smeets’ party, D66, is also not completely in the clear here. Earlier this year, multiple members complained about the vulnerability/jeopardy they experienced within the party. According to one of the victims, members of the youth department of D66, Jonge Democraten, had been notified a number of times of Smeets’ online behavior. Additionally, the party’s Confidentiality Committee had been alerted on March 31st, the day of Smeets’ oath of office. What happened in the two weeks between Smeets’ parliamentary entrance and his resignation, and what the party did with the information in the meantime, is unclear. What is clear is that the victims took the steps to contact the relevant bodies of the party to resolve this issue privately, but were not truly acknowledged and therefore rendered to publish their stories on social media, only for their trauma’s to be dissected, analyzed, and commented on by every Harry and Larry with a Twitter account.
The Smeets scandal is happening during a national discussion on how to reform our justice system to better accommodate victims of sexual misconduct, assault, and rape. We ought to expect a certain sensitivity to (changing) norms and manners with regards to sex and sexuality from any adult, especially from our representatives. Additionally, we must demand not just legal leadership from our representatives, but morally responsible leadership. An accomplished criminal attorney making moves on boys right after their coming-out is abusing his societal preponderance and disqualifies himself as a representative of the people.
Sidney Smeets on his first day in the Tweede Kamer (image source: ANP)