A survey by the Irish Independent has found that many colleges around the country have “no record” of sexual assault on their campus, with Trinity reporting that it does not have data on “reports of sexual misconduct, harassment, assault or rape”.
Similarly, Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) told the Irish Independent that it “has nothing officially on record for the past three years specific to sexual violence”, while the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) said the data wasn’t available.
The Irish Independent found that almost all the third level institutions that responded kept no records of sexual violence or abuse on their campuses from the past three years.
This comes despite evidence that 44% of students experience some form of sexual misconduct during their time in college, according to the Sexual Experiences Survey (SES) that was carried out by the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUI Galway) in partnership with the Union of Students’ in Ireland (USI) between February and April.
In findings released last week, the Sexual Experiences Survey showed that 52% of female students, 27% of male students and 49% of non-binary students reported having experienced sexual misconduct during their college years.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Maynooth University said it had records of a “very small” number of sexual assaults on campus over the past three years and “on this basis, to release details could identify the individuals concerned. All cases were referred to the gardaí.”
The higher education sector is currently preparing to bring in new anonymous reporting and data collection, in an attempt to eradicate sexual violence among students.
Dublin City University (DCU) stated that allegations of a criminal nature such as sexual assault are referred to the gardaí “whether they occurred on or off campus”, and that DCU is not informed “if/what action is taken by the gardaí as this is a private matter between the individuals concerned and the gardaí”.
The Sexual Experiences Survey collected online survey responses from approximately 6,026 students, with coverage of 21 third level campuses across the Republic of Ireland, mainly from 14 colleges where all students were emailed before government closure of colleges and universities at 6pm on March 12 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Trinity is among eight third level institutions currently developing an €80,000 online system to allow students to report sexual assault and harrassment anonymously that may be ready later this year.
The system is to be accessible through anonymous forms on each participating college’s website, and the data collected is to be used to help inform sex and consent education.
Announcing the proposed system in February, Trinity’s Graduate Intern for Sexual Consent Education and Development said that the data, which “represents our college community’s experiences”, will be “used to direct our educational campaigns and our policy”.
“This project has given us a wonderful opportunity to make real changes to the lives of our staff and students, both now and in the future,” Skelly continued.
Gertie Raftery, Chair of the Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education Ireland committee and a leader of the project, told the Independent that the system was being designed in the hope that “data provided from the reporting system will provide a broader picture of sexual violence on colleges campuses”.
The Sexual Experiences Survey was a collaborative project between the Active Consent team at NUI Galway and USI. Active Consent is a four year programme of research and practical implementation of initiatives such as Active Consent and SMART Consent Workshops and drama presentations.
University of Limerick (UL) President Des Fitzgerald released a statement in the aftermath of the survey outlining that “incidents of sexual assault on the campuses of higher education institutions in Ireland are grossly underreported”.
“As illustrated by the Sexual Experiences Survey 2020 launched this week – we know that the number of official complaints of sexual assault made every year in no way reflects the reality or the frequency of sexual assault or harassment that students may have encountered either at UL or on any other HEI campus,” Fitzgerald continued.
In 2019, outgoing Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor launched the Department of Education and Skills’ Consent Framework, which was established by government with an aim to change the culture within third level institutions on the issue of consent.