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Standing Up To Sexual Assault

A recent survey carried out by the College Tribune newspaper has revealed that one in four female students at UCD has had a non-consensual sexual experience.

The College Tribune can also reveal, that a worrying 10% of UCD students that responded to the survey were not sure whether their sexual experience had been consensual or not.

Over 90% of students do not know where to report a sexual offence to university authorities in order to seek disciplinary action against the offender.

The survey conducted by this paper, coming from the largest university in Ireland adds to a worrying trend appearing on campuses across the country.

Similar surveys have been conducted so far this year by both the students unions in Trinity College Dublin, and University College Cork with equally worrying results.

The survey conducted in Trinity College was the first ever in-depth study of student’s experiences of sexual assault and sexual harassment, and found that 25% of women and 5% of men have been subjected to unwanted sexual experiences.

These figures are broadly in line with findings from University College Cork, where 15% of students have experienced a non-consensual sexual experience, with a third of students having faced unwanted physical contact in a university setting.

Speaking to the College Tribune in regards to their plans for a sexual harassment survey and campaigns, UCDSU Welfare Officer Maeve de Say stated: “This year’s SHAG Week was renamed ‘Sex Out Loud-Consent Comes First,’

The focus of the week changed from no longer just being about handing out free condoms but about consent. Student’s took to it well, and I think it was a very successful campaign all round,” she said.

De Say also went on to tell the College Tribune that UCDSU would be launching its in-depth sexual assault and harassment survey in the next two weeks, for which they will be collaborating with the Rape Crisis Centre.

When asked if they were aware of any campaigns about sexual consent that had previously been run on campus, an overwhelming 90% of students said they could not recall any campaigns having taken place.

However, the College Tribunes survey can reveal that over two-thirds of students stated that they believed that cases of assault on campus could be reduced if more emphasis were placed on educating students on the concept of consent.

The recent spate of sexual assault and harassment studies appearing in universities country-wide follow the “Say Something,” study published by the Union of Students Ireland (USI) in September 2013.

It found that 16% of students in Irish third-level institutions have experienced some form of non-consensual sexual experience, with only 3% of victims having reported it to the Gardai.

Speaking recently to the Trinity News in regards to Trinity survey, USI President Laura Harmon stated that she felt that Irish universities needed to greatly improve its procedures in relation to dealing with sexual assault.

“There is no standardised policy for higher-education institutions,” she said.

“There should be standard procedures for when students report incidents to staff.”

Harmon also mentioned that this is an issue she is currently working on with the minister for education Jan O’Sullivan.

In 2012, the “Don’t Be That Person,” campaign was initiated on campus, following the popular “Don’t be That Guy,” campaigns run in Northern America. This campaign focused on the issue of consent in sexual encounters with the intention of focusing on the potential offender rather than the victim.

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In 2011, the annual report from the Rape Crisis Centre showed that over 15% of calls received that year were from people aged between 17-23 years of age.

With such efforts being placed in assessing how many students have been affected by unwanted sexual contact and sexual assault, it begs the question in the minds of many, when will Irish universities take a leaf out of the books of their British counterparts, and introduce mandatory sexual consent workshops.

In October of last year, Cambridge University introduced compulsory workshops for students for the first time in the universities 800-year history.

The workshops involve 30 students and last about 30 minutes and are designed to ensure that students feel comfortable discussing the topic of consent and open enough to debunk some of the myths behind it.
During each workshop, the following description is read aloud;

“Consent is active and willing participation in sexual activity. It means that both parties had the freedom and capacity to make a choice.”

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Oxford University has also introduced mandatory consent workshops in 20 of its colleges.

Last September an Oxford student used the pseudonym Maria Marcello to write a blog in which she described how she had been raped. She claimed that the university ignored her requests for help, and that police had told her she did not have a chance of getting a conviction.

While in the US, Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz is carried her mattress from class to class until the man she says raped her leaves campus.

With rape culture just as big a problem in Irish universities as it is in its US and UK counterparts, it is vital that the country’s leading universities, as well as the USI and the Department of Education, reiterate a zero-tolerance policy on sexual assault.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can get in contact with Maeve de Say (welfare@ucdsu.ie), the UCD student counselling service (01 – 7163133) or the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre’s 24-hour helpline (1800  778 888).

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