• Clodagh Meaney

National Women's Council call for immediate action on sexual violence in colleges and universities

The organisation met with Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris to discuss the urgent issue.

The National Women's Council of Ireland has called on Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris to prioritise ending sexual violence and harassment in Third Level Institutions.

It comes following a report by Active Consent and the Union of Students in Ireland which found that one in three women and non-binary people are survivors of rape, with 44 percent of students surveyed reporting sexual harassment.

During a meeting between the organisation, and the National Advisory Committee, Minister Harris said he was "stunned" by the report.

"I didn’t think I lived under a rock but I was stunned by its findings. It is the same shock I experienced when I launched the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre’s annual report last year," he said.

"Sexual harassment, sexual intimidation, rape, gender-based violence are becoming increasingly common crimes."

The Minister said however that it shouldn't be presumed that the problem of sexual violence exclusively happens in third level institutions.

"Thankfully, many victims are more willing to come forward now but the warning signs in the USI survey should be a cause to action. We shouldn’t presume that the problem begins or ends in our third level institutions."

“I want the third level sector not to be a problem area but a leader. A leader in diversity. In respect. In inclusion. In zero tolerance," he said.

Minister Harris went on to re-iterated that consent is not an option, but a requirement.

"Consent is not an option. It is a requirement. I don’t care what a victim was wearing. I don’t care how many drinks the perpetrator or the victim had. I don’t care if you believed he or she was 'up for it' or not. I don’t care if they came home with you," he said.

“Sex without consent is assault and it is a crime. We cannot address these issues unless we confront the uncomfortable reality that this is happening.”

Orla O'Connor, Director of the National Women’s Council said that women aged 18-29 are the most at biggest risk to experiencing sexual harassment and violence.

"Many of these will be students which makes them less likely to report these crimes when compared with other groups."

"Sexual harassment and violence both offline and online, has a significant impact on their lives, yet many young women experience this in an ongoing atmosphere of silence," she continued, imploring colleges and universities to implement a zero tolerance policy.

"While sexual harassment and violence are not unique to higher and further education institutes, these institutes are uniquely placed in showing leadership on this issue and implementing the zero tolerance culture and preventative measures that can drive the long term societal change needed to ensure all women are safe."

The minister has asked the council to draw up three concrete proposals to implement within the next year.

If you have been affected by any of the themes of this article, please reach out:

Rape Crisis Centre - 1800 77 88 88

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

© 2020 by EMPWR

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