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70% of female students in Ireland experience sexual hostility or gender harassment

54% of first-year women students reported experiencing sexual hostility or crude gender harassment since starting college.

Image: PavelKant via Shutterstock

THE MAJORITY OF female third-level students have reported experiencing sexual hostility or crude gender harassment at some point since starting college, a new report has found.

In a survey of 632 students, conducted by the NUI Galway SMART Consent research team, 54% of first-year women students reported experiencing sexual hostility or crude gender harassment since starting college.

This rose to 64% among second-year women students and 70% among third-year students.

The comparable figures for men are 25%, 37% and 40%.

The report – Are Consent Workshops Sustainable and Feasible in Third Level Institutions? – includes surveys with over 3,500 students conducted at NUI Galway consent workshops held at four colleges nationwide.

Along with sexual harassment during college years, the report examined perceptions of sex education at school and perceptions of alcohol and capacity to give consent.

Alcohol and consent

In one survey, 733 students read one of two versions of a story about consent where both characters were drinking alcohol.

Only one in five students considered the female character too drunk to give consent in the story where she consumed 14 standard drinks, while just 33% considered the character too drunk in the version where she consumed 28 standard drinks.

14% of the students considered the male character too drunk to give consent after 14 standard drinks, and 30% considered him too drunk after 28 standard drinks.

Speaking at the launch of the report today, Minister of State for higher education Mary Mitchell O’Connor said she is considering making classes on sexual consent compulsory in all Irish colleges.

She said she now believes it is time time to formulate a “standard  of institutional responsibility to address sexual harassment and assault”.

Third-level institutions will have to meet a certain criteria of standards in terms of how they are dealing with the issue, with the minister adding that colleges will be drawn together to establish a “a best fit for such a standard”.

Sex education

In a survey of 2,150 students, 71% of women and 63% of men said they were dissatisfied with the sexual health education they received at school.

14% of women and 17% of men were neutral on this question, while 15% of women and 20% of men were satisfied with their sexual health education at school.

More lesbian, gay and bisexual students felt that their sexual health education at school did not cover the topics they are most interested in (75%), compared with heterosexual students (66%).

“The survey findings show that the social environment in which consent takes place among college students is often unsupportive – most women experience harassment, a large majority of all students are dissatisfied with their sexual health education at school and social norms for drinking minimise the true impact of alcohol on the capacity to give consent,” Dr Pádraig MacNeela of NUI Galway said.

Minister for State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor will today launch the report.

Ahead of the launch, she said: “All institutions have a duty of care to their students and I am delighted to see many of them integrate and support these empowerment and preventative initiatives, such as mandatory consent workshops.

As Minister, it falls to me to ensure that providing excellence in education depends also on providing a safe learning environment, free from sexual harassment, assault and the fear or threat of it.

“Therefore, I welcome Dr Pádraig MacNeela’s report. It is a timely piece of research given the National Council on Curriculum and Assessment is carrying out a major review of the relationships and sexuality curriculum.”

The minister said it is simply not acceptable that the majority of students surveyed feel let down by the level of sex education they received in school. “We have a lot of work to do, ” said Mitchell O’Connor.

With additional reporting by Christina Finn

The full report can be read here.

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