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New tool allows higher education students to anonymously report sexual harassment and violence

The Speak Out tool will be launched across 18 universities this academic year.

Image: Shutterstock/sebra

A NEW ONLINE tool that will allow higher education students and staff to anonymously report sexual harassment and sexual violence has been launched today. 

The tool, entitled Speak Out, is an online platform that can be used to report incidents of bullying, cyberbullying, harassment, discrimination, hate crime, coercive behaviour or control, stalking, assault, sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape.

It will be rolled out across 18 higher education institutions this academic year.

Speaking today, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said he was delighted to launch the “incredibly important initiative”.

“The creation of this innovative and supportive online platform will provide a safe and anonymous medium for students and staff to report incidents of bullying, assault or sexual violence in a trauma-informed environment,” he said. 

These are issues that my Department is acutely aware of, and I’m delighted we could provide funding for this vital project.

Harris added that Speak Out represents “a national approach to tackling these issues by raising awareness, and by providing a means of recording instances, which will assist in achieving a zero-tolerance culture”. 

How it works 

The tool will be launched in the following higher education institutions this week:

  • Carlow Institute of Technology
  • Dublin City University
  • Dundalk Institute of Technology
  • Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology
  • Institute of Art, Design and Technology
  • Institute of Technology Sligo
  • Munster Technological University
  • Maynooth University
  • NUI Galway
  • Royal College of Surgeons
  • Technological University Dublin
  • Technological University of the Shannon
  • University of Limerick
  • Waterford Institute of Technology

The Letterkenny Institute of Technology, the National College of Art and Design, Trinity College Dublin and University College Cork will launch the tool later in the academic year. 

Each institution will have its own URL to access the tool, and can be used by students, staff and visitors. 

The URL will take the user to the tool where they will first be given an explanation of the tool and offered access to a list of supports. 

They will then be able to tick a box under a number of questions that will ask the user, for example, when the incident took place, what form the behaviour took, and whether they have sought support. 

All questions are tick box and there is no open-text option within the tool.

When the user has completed the questions, they will be taken to a custom list of supports specifically addressing the types of situations they have described. 

Reaction

The Union of Students Ireland Vice President for Welfare Somhairle Brennan has welcomed the launch of the tool, calling it a “a welcome step forward in continuing to destigmatise conversations about consent”.

It will hopefully empower students who have had a non-consensual sexual experience to have their voice heard in a way that feels safe for them.

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“Having as much knowledge as possible is also vital and the data we will get from this tool will be incredibly useful in directing the supports we provide for students into the future,” he said. 

The 2019 Framework for Consent in Higher Education Institutions: Safe, Respectful, Supportive and Positive – Ending Sexual Violence and Harassment in Irish Higher Education Institutions outlined the need for data to be collected on the incidence rates of sexual harassment and violence across the higher education sector.

The Department of Higher Education said the data collected through Speak Out will be used to inform policy and targeted educational initiatives going forward. 

The project, which was first announced last year, was led by the Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education Ireland (PCHEI), and was funded by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.

Chairperson of PCHEI and Project Lead Gertie Raftery said: “I am delighted to have led, on behalf of PCHEI, on the development of Speak Out which provides a voice for students and staff in higher education to speak out about their experiences of sexual harassment, violence or intimidation of any kind. The tool will also provide bespoke signposting to trauma-informed supports.”

This project was also supported by the HEA Centre of Excellence for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

The Centre’s director, Dr Ross Woods, said: “This tool will allow HEIs to understand staff and student experiences of harassment and violence, and will assist the HEA in making evidence-based policy decisions in this area.

“Most importantly, it will raise awareness of the supports available to students and staff and encourage them to seek help if they need it.”

About the author:

Jane Moore

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