A survey carried out last year by the Higher Education Authority concerning sexual harassment in higher education showed that over a third of female respondents have experienced non-consensual sex.

More than half of students who responded to the survey said that they have experienced cases of sexual harassment through offensive sexual jokes, remarks about their body or appearance, and unwanted attempts at being drawn into conversations regarding sexual matters. Despite this, the majority of students said that they felt their college would support someone who made a report of sexual misconduct.

However, according to FOI figures, there have been only 75 reports of sexual assault made to Irish colleges and universities from 2015 to 2020. Ten students and staff members have been either fined, suspended, or expelled from these institutions within these 5 years.

Noeline Blackwell, chief executive officer of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre emphasized how many cases go unreported. She said that students often feel it is easier to simply move on from an incident of sexual assault, and others worry about the consequences a report would have for them.

Noeline Blackwell – CEO of Dublin Rape Crisis Centre & member of UCD Governing Authority

“We heard about the students and staff who were subjected to sexual harassment and abuse, but until recently there was very little institutional attention on how poor the systems were with dealing with it.”

Sexual harassment at UCD

The College Tribune spoke to UCDSU Welfare Officer, Molly Greenough, about steps that UCD has taken to tackle this issue on campus. She stated that the university has made extensive reforms to provide safety for students and support for victims.

“This includes establishing the Ending Sexual Harassment and Violence at Third Level Education (ESHTE) Committee to the introduction of the Anonymous Report & Support Tool and Bystander Intervention Training.

In November 2021, the University launched its newest support service, the Dignity & Respect Support Advisers, who are there to support staff and students in any instance of bullying, harassment, or sexual misconduct. Furthermore, the Dignity & Respect Oversight Group is working on the implementation of tiered training sessions for students & staff for the upcoming academic year.”

She believes, however, that the “elephant in the room” has been the lack of consent training provided to students. Multiple Welfare Officers nationwide have called for such workshops and it is only this year after Minister for Further and Higher Education, Simon Harris, made it a requirement, that UCD has committed to the formation of a subgroup on consent to look at the implementation of Active Consent workshops at the program level.

“We at the SU still believe consent classes should be mandatory, however, change often moves at a glacial pace in UCD, and these recent successes are welcomed.”

Ella Waddington – Reporter