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Half of third-level students intervened in an incident of sexual violence or harassment - survey

Three in ten students said they did not feel well informed about intervening as a bystander.

HALF OF STUDENTS have said they had made an intervention as a bystander to an incident of sexual violence or harassment over the last four years, according to a survey launched by the Department of Further and Higher Education today.

The survey also found that seven out of ten students said that they felt responsible to  intervene in such incidences, but that three in ten students did not feel well informed about making an effective intervention as a bystander.

A similar proportion felt ‘somewhat’ informed, while the remaining 39% felt ‘fairly’ or ‘completely’ informed.

The survey, available to read here, was launched in April last year, and was conducted by the Higher Education Authority. It was sent out to staff and students by higher education institutions. 

A total of 11,417 responses were analysed from 7,901 students and 3,516 staff.

The survey found that a large majority of students responded that it was “likely” that they would confront a friend who planned to give someone alcohol to get sex; to challenge a friend who shared private pictures of their partner; to check in with a friend who looks drunk when they go to a room with someone else at a party; that they would say something to a friend who takes a drunk person back to their room at a party, that they would object to a ‘rape joke’, or confront a friend it there were rumours that they had raped someone.

Men were less likely to intervene to object to a ‘rape joke’, and less likely to check in with a friend who looks drunk when they go into a room with someone at a party.

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris said in response to the survey: “The findings point to some positive developments in the higher education institutions that can be built upon in areas such as awareness raising and education.

But there are also some deeply troubling findings, such as the levels of sexual harassment experienced by staff and students that responded to the survey and particularly the female students that reported that they had experienced sexual violence.

The survey found that females were particularly likely to experience sexual violence: “49% of females describing some experience of sexual touching via coercion or incapacitation, force, or threat of force”.

Dr Pádraig MacNeela from NUI Galway, who led the analysis and reporting on the surveys, said: “The students and staff who took part in these surveys provided insights on a wide range of topics, across sexual violence, harassment, consent education and supporting others.

“…A majority of people trusted that their college will support them, and a large majority endorsed positive behaviour and active consent.

Yet alongside these strengths there were gaps in knowledge about how to make complaints or access supports through their institution. We also identified a high level of sexual violence and harassment experienced by students in particular.

“By taking part in these surveys, students and staff across the country have highlighted for us the priorities that should be addressed to create a positive culture of respect, safety, and consent.”

The survey led to a number of recommendations, including:

  • A systematic development programme of awareness raising, education, and training should be made available, supported by higher education institutions, and promoted as an important priority
  • Continue work on disseminating easily understandable and accessible policies
  • Build sectoral capacity by supporting examples of good practice that can be shared
  • Devise a longterm approach to research on student experiences
  • Support people affected by sexual violence and harassment.

This morning, Minister Harris met with members of the HEA’s expert advisory group on ending sexual violence and harassment and practitioners of the National Advisory Committee, to brief stakeholders and student representatives on the findings. 

Anyone impacted by these issues should contact their Higher Education Institution or text 50808 for help. There is also a list of organisations, listed below, which may be able to help.

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