This article contains discussion of consent and sexual assault.
In March 2019, the Students’ Union (SU) voted to introduce an intern for sexual consent education and development to Trinity. Speaking to Trinity News over Zoom, Aoife Grimes, the current sexual consent intern, reveals her plans for the upcoming academic year. “I think sex, sexual consent and how we interact with each other is as important as ever.”
Aoife Grimes is no stranger to student welfare and well-being. In her second year of college, she was the Welfare Officer for the Junior Common Room (JCR), moving on to become the Gender Equality Officer for the SU. In her final year, Grimes was employed by Trinity to research a new Sexual Misconduct Policy and also to work on a Bystander Intervention program. Grimes explains the new push for change within Trinity: “There’s a change in perspective and ethos, the college is a lot more receptive to change. We’re currently moving towards change.”
Grimes sums up not just Trinity’s problem, but all Irish third level institutions’ issue with consent: “It’s important to note that all colleges in Ireland and across the world have a problem with sexual violence and Trinity is no exception. It’s widely documented and acknowledged. University campuses create a unique set of risks for not just women, but all people.” Grimes notes the need for all colleges to tackle this problem “head on”, citing research as the key to understanding how to help students. “We have to look at our student population. How many vulnerable students do we have? We have a large international student population in Trinity and we need to acknowledge that not everyone has the same second-level sex education.” Grimes explains that there is a lack of full time employees within college institutions in Ireland that are tackling this issue, stating “I’m the only full time employee in the college in this specific area (sexual consent). We’re currently trying to secure more funding so that this role can continue.” With the introduction of the Minister of Higher Education, Grimes is hopeful that more roles will be created for the well-being of students across the country.
Grimes goes on to acknowledge the current issues within Trinity regarding the reporting of sexual assault, mainly the lack of reporting procedures. When one looks at the SU website, the following instructions are given: “To make an official report against another member of the TCD college community you will need to log it with the Junior Dean. If you need information or advice on this process you can contact your tutor, the SU Welfare Officer, or the GSU Vice President.” However, Grimes does reference her work during her third year of college, describing the QR-code document she designed which was distributed on posters across campus detailing the structures available in Trinity to those who had suffered sexual misconduct and how to seek help. “Although the current procedures aren’t great, it’s important that students know them and know how they work,” she explains.
However, she has put much thought into how to alter this system to fit Trinity’s students. Grimes mentions that there is currently no Sexual Misconduct Policy within Trinity, and that at present, it resides within the Dignity and Respect Procedures, “which isn’t appropriate, and the college recognises that”. Grimes then goes on to say that the policy will hopefully be passed within this academic year. “It will be research and trauma led. It will also be as topical as we can make it. Support towards survivors will be a priority.”
While discussing her goals for the coming academic year, Grimes mentions not only her work towards Trinity’s consent policy, but also the proposed Bystander Intervention module which will hopefully be run through Trinity Electives within the next two years, stating: “It’s an institutional place within Trinity and will allow for more research into the topic”. Visibility and the promotion of the Together Consent campaign, according to Grimes, is also a main goal. She states that her dream for next year is to have the Sexual Consent policy passed and signed off, underlining the importance of the Together Consent campaign. “It has the potential to solidify a place for consent in Trinity’s future.”
When the issue of female contraception is brought up, Grimes is ready to discuss the issues surrounding the general use of contraception amongst students in Ireland. “The Welfare Officer does distribute female sanitary products, but condom usage has actually decreased across campuses in Ireland and STIs are on the rise.” Grimes notes that Ireland received its highest recorded number of AIDs diagnoses last year, explaining that promoting the use of all barrier contraceptives is as important as it has ever been. She agrees that the SU could diversify what kinds of contraception they supply to students, explaining: “The SU should be supplying contraception that fits all forms of persons, but we also need more information on how to convert normal condoms into dental dams.”
Throughout the interview, Grimes acknowledges that these unprecedented times may affect how consent workshops are delivered to students in places such as Trinity Hall: “I’ve been facilitating and taking part in running workshops since my second year. We’re currently aiming for a blended form of workshop, some online and some in person. We currently have no idea as to what they’re going to look like due to changes in regulations. There will be workshops for all of Halls, same as always.” Grimes brings up the point that virtual workshops have been proven to be less effective and that in-person workshops will always be pushed for. “It allows students to engage more with the material.” She also mentions that student counselling services are available over the phone and online as well as in person in order to adhere to Covid-19. When asked if Trinity is ready for a full week event on sexual health and consent similar to Women’s Week, Grimes highlights the current day-long events in place hosted by the SU and other societies. She notes that although it wasn’t in her jurisdiction, it would be a good idea in the future: “Once consent finds a home in Trinity, I feel like events such as that will become easier to conduct.”
Grimes ends on a hopeful note, discussing the new online system which will allow college students to anonymously report instances of sexual assault. Funded by the Department of Education, this system, which is expected to be up and running by the start of the next academic year, is undergoing development by Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education in Ireland, in conjunction with nine colleges. “As far as I am aware, it should be operating by September. Once this policy is put in place, I do believe that there will be a change with reporting procedures, there will be a change across campus.”
There is no policy currently in place in Trinity for addressing sexual misconduct, but hopefully, due to Grimes’s work, there will be soon, making Trinity a safer space for all students and staff alike.