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'We need to cop on': Harris says government is committed to changing sexual assault laws

Simon Harris will meet with the National Women’s Council’s advisory committee on ending sexual violence later today.

Image: RollingNews.ie

TACKLING SEXUAL ASSAULT and harassment in Irish society will be high on this government’s agenda, the Minister for Further and Higher Education will say today. 

Simon Harris will meet with the National Women’s Council’s advisory committee on tackling sexual harassment and sexual violence in third-level education. 

A survey by the Union of Students in Ireland recently found one third of female students reported having been raped. Two thirds said they had been sexually harassed.

“I didn’t think I lived under a rock but I was stunned by its findings,” Harris will say in his address to the council.

“It is the same shock I experienced when I launched the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre’s annual report last year. Sexual harassment, sexual intimidation, rape, gender-based violence are becoming increasingly common crimes.

Thankfully, many victims are more willing to come forward now but the warning signs in the USI survey should be a cause to action. We shouldn’t presume that the problem begins or ends in our third level institutions.

The minister will say it can start in homes and schools, through toxic cultures in sports clubs, in workplaces and in pubs.

“I want you to be under no illusion about my determination to deal with this epidemic. And I want the third level sector not to be a problem area but a leader. A leader in diversity. In respect. In inclusion. In zero tolerance.

Consent is not an option. It is a requirement. I don’t care what a victim was wearing. I don’t care how many drinks the perpetrator or the victim had. I don’t care if you believed he or she was “up for it” or not. I don’t care if they came home with you.

“Sex without consent is assault and it is a crime. We cannot address these issues unless we confront the uncomfortable reality that this is happening.”

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The minister will challenge the council to come up with three concrete proposals to implement within 12 months.

“It is time to cop on. It is time for us to confront this and it is time for us to do something about it. It is a conversation we must have in every household. On every campus.

“I promise you here today that I, alongside my colleague Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, are committed to being the voice for change in this area. To change the laws that must be changed. To advocate and educate.”

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