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Increased funding needed to tackle sexual violence in colleges, report finds

Investigations must be “independent, trauma-informed and fair to all parties”, the new Promoting Consent and Preventing Sexual Violence report says.

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A COMMON APPROACH to preventing and responding to sexual violence and harassment in third-level institutions is needed, a new report has said.

Investigations into complaints of sexual violence in third-level institutions must be “independent, trauma-informed and fair to all parties”, according to the report on Promoting Consent and Preventing Sexual Violence (Propel).

The report by the Technological Higher Education Association (THEA) has called for further funding, increased resources and robust trusted policies across higher level institutions.

It calls for sector-wide guidance on the subject, including identifiers of sexual misconduct, categories of offences and appropriate sanctions across institutions.

Speaking at the launch today, Dublin Lord Mayor Hazel Chu called on the Government to support it’s findings and provide the necessary resources.

She said: “If we’re still having this conversation now, and we’re still going to have this conversation next year, then it’s not good enough.”

“It’s simply not good enough. Last week, we started off the week by celebrating International Women’s Day. Then by the Wednesday, we saw the case, internationally, of how women yet again did not feel safe,” Chu said.

“Sarah Everard, I think what happened with that particular case was it resonated with so many people. One in four women may experience sexual violence at some point.”

Orla O’Connor, director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NCWI), said she fully supported the report’s findings.

“In the last decade, women, we can so clearly see this, have been empowered to speak up and share their experiences of sexual violence and harassment,” O’Connor said.

“And really, tragically, only this week the murder of Sarah Everard has rocked, although it hasn’t shocked, women everywhere,” she said.

“Another woman’s life has been taken as a result of male violence. And now we see an avalanche of women’s lived experiences, of being scared, of being afraid, of being attacked, of being intimidated, of being humiliated, of being harassed and of being changed.”

She added: “We remain absolutely committed to work in partnership and to support the higher education sector in any way we can, to implement learnings and approaches as they emerge, until the point where all students and staff can study or work in an environment that is free from sexual violence and harassment.”

The report says: “The sharing of practical information will be helpful as institutions move en masse to introduce new policies and procedures.”

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“As work in this area develops and staff take on formal roles in responding to disclosures, it will be advisable to develop a peer-support network across institutions.

“Developing such a peer-support network will be particularly valuable for those whose roles will entail receiving disclosures, recognising the emotionally distressing and/or ‘triggering’ nature of such work.

“Those who receive disclosures will require both emotional and professional support.”

The report calls for significant further funding to be made available in the area of sexual misconduct management, both at a national level and institutional level.

It recommends the creation of new posts such as a “sexual misconduct prevention and response manager” in institutions, to be supported at a national level by a sectoral representative and a panel of trained investigators.

Training for staff and students is identified as a key priority for institutions, along with increased visibility of supports, services, and communications in this area across institutions.

THEA policy analyst and author of the report, Dr Eavan O’Brien said: “Rather than the end, this report is just the beginning.

“Sexual violence and harassment are generally related to power.

“We must examine structural inequities that are the drivers of unacceptable behaviour and that set the conditions for abuse of power.

“This includes challenging and dismantling sexism, racism, ableism, and discrimination based on gender identity, expression, and sexual orientation.

“We must also recognise, as a society, that we will be more successful in eradicating these behaviours if we educate and raise awareness of sexual consent at primary and post-primary levels.”

She urged third level institutions to stick with the task at hand.

She said: “Institutions do need to be prepared to fail, that there will be times when training or perhaps events meet with a lukewarm response.

“But the important thing there is that institutions learn from those mistakes, they reshape their institutional action plans, and that those learnings are shared amongst the sector.

“Essentially that the rising tide lifts all boats.”

The in-depth report involved extensive consultations with stakeholders, including survivors groups, Rape Crisis Centres and the National Women’s Council of Ireland.

Traditional universities including Maynooth, NUI Galway, University College Cork and University College Dublin have also participated, as have the Higher Education Authority and the Department of Further Education. 

The plans coming out of the report include implementing systems to record the number of incidents of bullying, intimidation or harassment.

Statistics are to be reported annually to the Higher Education Authority (HEA).

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said that Ireland’s third level institutions “have an opportunity to be leaders in this field”.

“I am committed to ensuring a safe and respectful environment for all staff and students in our higher education institutions,” Harris said.

 

 

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