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Irish colleges to develop €80,000 online system for reporting sexual assault and harassment

The Department of Education has funded the nationwide project.

Trinity College Dublin is one of the institutions to have signed up the sexual misconduct reporting system.
Trinity College Dublin is one of the institutions to have signed up the sexual misconduct reporting system.
Image: Shutterstock/Aitormmfoto

NINE IRISH COLLEGES have signed up to an €80,000 online system that allows students to anonymously report experiences of sexual assault. 

Some of Ireland’s largest colleges, including Trinity College Dublin, NUI Galway and Maynooth University, have signed up to the system, which is funded by the Department of Education. 

The system, which is expected to be up and running by the start of the next academic year, is being developed by Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education in Ireland, in conjunction with the nine colleges. 

The reporting system will be available on each of the colleges’ websites and will resemble an online form. 

It will provide students with the means to anonymously report sexual misconduct, with hopes that the data provided from the reporting system will provide a broader picture of sexual violence on colleges campuses. 

“It will, we hope, give a voice to the voiceless,” said Gertie Raftery, Chairperson of the Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education Ireland.

The new system, she said, will “enable us to finally get some real data on the extent of the problem of sexual harassment and violence in third level institutions”. 

This data will in turn be used to inform the specific types of sex and consent education provided to students.

Alongside the system, students will still be able to report to their colleges any incidents of sexual assault and harassment. 

The €80,000 covers the project for one year – after that it’s understood that colleges will need to re-apply for funding from the Department of Education or seek an alternative source of revenue.

The colleges that have signed up to the online reporting system are:

  • Dundalk Institute of Technology
  • Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology
  • Institute of Technology Sligo
  • Letterkenny Institute of Technology
  • Limerick Institute of Technology
  • Maynooth University
  • NUI Galway
  • Trinity College Dublin
  • University of Limerick

There are hopes that, after this year, other colleges will also register for the reporting system. 

Rachel Skelly, who works on sexual consent education at Trinity College Dublin, said that the project will “allow for the collection of meaningful data on the incidence of sexual misconduct”. 

This data, which represents our college community’s experiences, will be used to direct our educational campaigns and our policy. This project has given us a wonderful opportunity to make real changes to the lives of our staff and students, both now and in the future.

Outgoing Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, championed the issue of consent during her tenure in the department

In April 2019, Mitchell O’Connor launched a document that set out the framework for addressing sexual violence on college campuses.

The document, which was compiled by an expert advisory group, called on the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and the Department of Education to support Irish colleges to “develop processes for recording and reporting on incidents of sexual harassment, assault and rape on third-level campuses”.

“Sexual violence and harassment has no place in our institutions. It is unacceptable that any student, researcher or staff member should experience it,” Mitchell O’Connor said at the launch.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education told TheJournal.ie that the proposal would help improve the recording of incidents of harassment and assault. 

“At present there is no standard way of recording incidents of sexual harassment, sexual assault or rape across [higher education institutions]. The proposed reporting tool would help remedy that, providing more consistent data on incidents of this nature,” the spokesperson said. 

University College Dublin

University College Dublin, Ireland’s largest college, is not taking part in the project.

Instead, an internal college expert group has developed its own anonymous online reporting system for bullying, harassment and sexual harassment.

Capture The Report + Support page on the UCD website. Source: UCD

Called “Report + Support”, the system launched earlier this month.

Before filling out the form, UCD tells students and staff that “reporting anonymously using this tool means that you will not be asked for your name or your personal details and it will not commence a formal complaint process”.

In a college-wide email to staff, seen by TheJournal.ie, UCD said that the online reporting tool had been established “in recognition that not all those experiencing bullying, harassment or sexual harassment feel able to come forward to make a formal complaint or engage in an informal means of resolving an issue of this nature”. 

The spokesperson for the Department of Education confirmed that it had provided UCD with €14,000 to fund the reporting system, alongside consent workshops and an evaluation of the college’s current consent workshops. 

Last year, TheJournal.ie reported that there had been ten cases in the previous three years where lecturers and other members of staff at Irish universities were accused of sexual misconduct.

In two of those cases, staff members at UCD were subject to disciplinary action on foot of allegations made.

Dublin Rape Crisis Centre CEO Noeline Blackwell said that these figures “cannot be the full picture” and pointed to research at NUI Galway that showed that over half of women reported unwelcome comments about their bodies or sexual activities by their third year in college.

TheJournal.ie has again asked Irish universities via the Freedom of Information Act how many allegations of sexual misconduct were made, this time covering the year 2019. When it came to sexual misconduct, we asked for instances of alleged harassment, inappropriate behaviour and assault to be included.

UCD said that there had been one such instance where an allegation was made against a staff member, and another allegation of same made against a student. 

There were also three investigations conducted by the university into allegations of sexual misconduct since 1 January 2019. Three investigations remain ongoing at this time, while one other complaint has not proceeded beyond the screening stage. 

Technological University Dublin - formerly DIT – said that there were two instances where an allegation of sexual misconduct was made against a student last year with two subsequent investigations taking place.

NUI Galway said that there was one allegation of sexual misconduct made against a staff member in 2019. An investigation into that matter remains ongoing. 

Maynooth University said that there were “a very small number of cases” in 2019 but refused to provide more details as “to do so could identify the individuals concerned”. 

As it did last year, Trinity College Dublin refused our Freedom of Information request so figures for that college are not available. DCU said that no allegations of this kind were made last year.

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About the author:

Dominic McGrath and Sean Murray

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