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'We need to make sure it never happens again': Ní Shúilleabháin praised for speaking out over sexual harassment

Dr Ní Shúilleabháin described her ordeal in today’s Irish Times.

Image: Sasko lazarov/Photocall Ireland

MINISTER FOR HIGHER Education, Simon Harris, has commended Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin for speaking out about her “horrific” experience of sexual harassment by a colleague in University College Dublin as he promised a zero-tolerance approach to tackle the issue at third level. 

Harris said he had previously met with the broadcaster and lecturer to speak about her experience, as detailed in today’s Irish Times. 

“I don’t want anyone else, student or staff, to go through the same experiences I did,” she said on Twitter about her two-year-long ordeal of being harassed by a former colleague. 

She said the experience left her living in fear and hopes that speaking publicly will begin a conversation that helps address this problem in third level institutes across Ireland for staff and students. 

UCD told the newspaper that it could not comment on individual cases but that it had a “zero tolerance” policy on sexual harassment.

Minister Harris said Ní Shúilleabháin had his complete and utter respect and gratitude for what she has done. 

“She shouldn’t have had to endure what she endured. And we need to make sure it never happens again,” Harris said in a video posted on Twitter. 

He acknowledged that sexual harassment is not an issue confined to third level, but that he wants the sector to lead the way by adopting a “zero-tolerance approach”. 

“So let me be clear. If there are any old dinosaurs out there in the system, your day is gone. Third Level, the higher education sector, the further education sector is to be an environment of respect, inclusion, tolerance and safety.”

The Minister said that he was written to the president of every university and higher education institution in the country asking them to produce an action plan on tackling sexual violence and harassment.

He also wants to give more powers to the Higher Education Authority to strengthen their role in overseeing the implementation of the frameworks in each institution, to make consent classes available to everyone, as well as a public awareness campaign. 

The National Women’s Council of Ireland also commended Ní Shúilleabháin for her “courage and bravery”.

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Orla O’Connor, Director of NWC said her experience clearly highlights the need for all third level institutes to take sexual harassment and violence on campus seriously and develop a holistic approach that covers both staff and students. 

“Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin’s experience shows the deep and significant impact sexual harassment has on every aspect of a person’s life. It highlights how this trauma can be compounded by the response from an institution that does not fully recognise the seriousness of the issue and its responsibility to offer adequate protection to the victim.”

“We now need to see urgent action by all third level institutes to ensure both staff and students can be safe on campus. Where an incident occurs, we crucially need to have in place clear policies and procedures that follow best practice in this area and ensure the victim is supported and protected at all times

NWC has called on all third level institutes to prioritise the full implementation of the ‘National Framework’ on sexual harassment and violence for higher and further education.”

Harris met with the National Women’s Council’s advisory committee on ending sexual violence and harassment in third-level education back in July. During the meeting, he said the government was committed to changing sexual assault laws.

A recent survey carried out by the Union of Students in Ireland found one-third of female students reported having been raped. Two-thirds said they had been sexually harassed. A total of 6,026 students completed the survey between February and April 2020. 

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