• Clodagh Meaney

44 percent of Irish students have experienced non consensual sexual contact, report finds

One in three women and non-binary people report that they are a survivor of sexual assault.

By Clodagh Meaney


A report published has shown that 44 percent of Irish students surveyed have said that they have experienced non consensual sexual contact.


Almost a third of students have experienced rape with 35 percent of women, and 32 percent of non-binary people reporting they have been a survivor of sexual assault.


The research was conducted by the Active* Consent programme at NUI Galway and the Union of Students in Ireland.


The Sexual Experiences Survey report further stated that of those surveyed 41 percent of women experienced some form of assault while incapacitated, 39 percent through acts of coercion, and 25 percent through force or the threat of force.


29 percent of women, 28 percent of non-binary people, and 10 percent of men surveyed reported non consensual penetration by incapacitation, force, or threat of force.


Of those who disclosed the details of their assaults to a third party, only 3 percent of men, 4.5 percent of women and 5.6 percent of non-binary people reported to An Garda Siochona.


When it came to students with disabilities, 56 percent reported experiencing non consensual sexual contact with 76.5 percent experiencing sexism.


The rate of bisexual students describing sexual misconduct experiences was considerably higher, up to 14% greater than heterosexual or gay and lesbian students.


Lorna Fitzpatrick, President of The Student Union of Ireland said: There are many findings of the report that are shocking and quite upsetting. One that stood out to me from the report was that 'the most common reasons for non-disclosure were the belief that it was not serious enough, that the student handled it themselves, did not want anyone to know, or felt shame and embarrassment.'


"This shows we have a lot to so within our college communities and our society to ensure students feel supported to come forward and report any instance of sexual harassment and violence."


USI Vice-President for Welfare, Róisín O’Donovan added: “The fact that this survey received 6,000 responses shows this remains a huge issue among students, and we now have a lot of up-to-date information on students’ experiences."


“While a lot of work has been done in raising awareness of issues around consent, this research shows a gap in knowledge of how to report and what happens and should happen when a student makes a disclosure or report," she explained.


“In the survey just over 70 per cent of respondents who experienced sexual misconduct said they don’t understand what happens when a student reports an incident to their college, while only 16 per cent, again who had an experience, said they had received information on where to get help from their institution and only just under 10 per cent said they knew how to report an incident."


“These are areas that can be addressed very quickly by Higher Institutions and that needs to be one of the on-campus actions taken as a result of these survey findings.”


Dr Pádraig MacNeela, Senior Lecturer in Psychology in NUI Galway, report co-author and Active* Consent programme leader, said that bisexual, non-binary, and queer students described particularly high levels of sexual harassment.


“Over 1,000 of the female students who took part in the survey described incidents that correspond to rape, while one quarter of male students said they had been subject to sexual misconduct during their time in college."


“The survey findings also reveal positives about our campus climate. Most students took part in events, workshops, or other initiatives designed to prevent sexual misconduct. Those who took part were a lot more likely to be aware of supports and services."


“A majority of students agreed that their peers would be supportive if they were to disclose experiences of sexual misconduct, and trusted their college to be fair in how they deal with reports of sexual violence. These are positives, but students who had experienced sexual misconduct tended to be less trusting of the college or to expect their peers to be supportive.”


Dr Lorraine Burke, NUI Galway Post-Doctoral Researcher, report co-author, added: “The SES survey shows there is a gap that our colleges need to make up in order to respond to students’ needs."


“Not only the needs of the large percentage of students who are directly affected by sexual misconduct and harassment, but also their peers – the people they are most likely to share these experiences with and who will be best placed as active bystanders to intervene to prevent future incidents," she said.


“Fortunately, the Department of Education and Skills supports the Consent Framework launched in 2019, which is one of the most progressive policies that there is internationally," she added.


“Thanks to these efforts of Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Ireland has the opportunity to take a stand on sexual violence and harassment, to make a difference in the lives of students, and to be a best practice role model for the rest of our society."


If you've been affected by any of the themes in this article please reach out:

Dublin Rape Crisis Centre - 1800 77 88 88

Women’s Aid -  1800 34 19 00

LGBT Helpline - 1800 828 010

Samaritans - 116 123

Pieta House - 1800 247 247

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