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Analysis Meet the students championing positive change around consent in Irish universities

Members of the Active*Consent team share thoughts on the changes to the conversation around consent.

AS 2023 COMES to a close, we can reflect on the progress made so far in building consent culture in Ireland.

Sometimes, it can be difficult not to slip into the belief that issues such as sexual violence and harassment are insurmountable – especially when we hear alarming statistics in the news, such as those published earlier this year by the Central Statistics Office (indicating, among others, that four out of ten adults have experienced sexual violence in their lifetimes).

It is great to see new legislation such as the stalking and non-fatal strangulation laws now in place, with Northern Ireland adopting long-fought-for laws on upskirting, downblousing, and cyberflashing.

There have also been national campaigns for Coco’s law. The social media posts, TV and radio adverts highlight that threatening to share nudes without consent (known as image based sexual abuse or IBSA) and were released in English, Irish and Polish. There is also a current government campaign for people to have consent conversations.

Building an understanding

What is important in building consent culture is recognising that everyone can play a part, no matter how big or small. For young people, peer-to-peer consent education can be a relatable way to play a part in making their campus one where everyone feels safer from sexual violence. Research tells us that young people can be the most powerful agents of change in building an accessible and sustainable consent culture.

As part of the work of Active* Consent, students around the country are beginning to take ownership of the consent narrative at their universities, creating a safer and more supportive campus for everyone.

fakedictionaryworddictionarydefinitionofconsent Shutterstock / Feng Yu Shutterstock / Feng Yu / Feng Yu

The Active* Champion programme was piloted this September and saw students in three universities receive comprehensive training in consent promotion, workshop facilitation and campus culture change. The training is grounded in over ten years of Active* Consent research, and comes from a holistic, sex-positive perspective.

This means that no one is shamed, blamed or judged in any way for whether or not they choose to be sexually intimate.

The student Champions are a growing network of diverse individuals of all genders and sexualities, coming from a variety of countries. Some are highly experienced in the area already, while others are complete newcomers that simply saw the chance to make a positive contribution and decided to join in.


Active* Champion Amy decided to get involved as a Champion after her secondary school Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) left her feeling confused about how and when she was allowed to express her boundaries. She wanted to be a part of creating a culture that aims to reduce young people’s vulnerability by promoting communication and highlighting the importance of positive, consensual experiences for everyone.

“I honestly cannot remember the topic of consent being broached prior to entering university, besides being told that we shouldn’t let other people touch our bodies without permission in primary school. Sexual assault and harassment were characterised only as being forceful sexual encounters, most often by a stranger in a dark alleyway, with no discussion about things like catcalling, groping, stalking, or coerced encounters. This left me feeling very lost when it came to understanding what was and wasn’t okay for people to do and say to me at times. So I wanted to be a part of constructing a culture of consent on campus.”

Active* Champion Zach, meanwhile, decided to get involved as a Champion to try to break down some of the stigma that young men are often faced with when they learn about consent. Now a student in university, Zach has been volunteering with Active* Consent since he was in secondary school:

“Being in an all-boys secondary school there was a stigma around talking about consent and safer sexual interaction with other people. Active* Consent gave an easy going and informative way of teaching consent which I really like so I joined the team.”

The Champions facilitate Active* Consent workshops for other students, in which space is created for open discussion around how young people experience consent. During the workshops, participants are supported to learn skills that can help them to navigate consent in their own lives. The Champions report that reactions from their friends and peers, upon hearing of their roles, have been overwhelmingly positive. Keely, an Active* Champion and law student, comments on her experience of facilitating these workshops with her peers:

“Being able to educate young people starting out their college journey is amazing. Knowing that they will walk out of the classroom after the 90 minutes they spent with you gaining apt knowledge of consent and sexual health is a moment you feel such pride in.”

Workshops are not the only initiative that the Champions are helping to roll out in their universities. The Active* Consent team takes a socio-ecological approach to consent promotion, which means creating a variety of opportunities for young people to gain skills and knowledge of consent in a way that best suits them.

Changing minds

Our research shows that even something as simple as engaging with an informative poster can have a positive impact on students’ outlooks towards consent. Meadhbh describes other ways in which she contributes to consent culture on campus:

“We often volunteer at stalls and put up posters promoting consent around campus. Being a champion means that we also signpost students to different services relating to consent and sexual harassment.”

And, for some students, being a Champion is as simple as having an open conversation with their friends about consent. These Active* Champions believe that by talking openly and honestly about what it’s like to experience consent culture as a young person, other people may begin to feel more empowered to create positive changes in their own environments. PhD student and Champion Tonya highlights the importance of including everyone in the journey towards consent culture.

“Culture change can only occur if everyone is included. To be a champion, you just need to be willing to speak up & be an advocate for more consent literacy on our college campus, and however you want to do that, is up to you.”

Of course, there is more to do, particularly around supporting victims and understanding the full spectrum of sexual violence. But we can all play a part in building a safer world for everyone, whether it is with a big or a small action – from calling out a friend’s dodgy joke to having ongoing verbal check-ins with our intimate partners.

Everyone has the right to express and explore their sexuality without fear or threat of violence – whatever their gender, orientation, or relationship status.

Dr Caroline West is part of the Active* Consent team. Find out more at