Representative bodies of students and higher education institutions, alongside the Higher Education Authority (HEA), have launched an awareness campaign to encourage conversation and education around sexual consent on college campuses.
The #UnmuteConsent campaign is a collaboration of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), the Irish Universities Association (IUA), and the Technological Higher Education Association (THEA), and the HEA which aims to enable students to make change “by speaking out, by enhancing their own knowledge about consent, and ultimately, by challenging and changing behaviours”.
The campaign seeks to combat sexual violence and harassment by encouraging students to speak out against unacceptable behaviour and access support, as well as challenging perceived norms of unacceptable behaviour.
The campaign also seeks to influence “positive and confident” conversations about consent and relationships, and encourage students to practice consent in their relationships and interactions
Speaking in support of the new campaign, Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said: “I have been very clear that the third level sector must lead the way in changing cultures, behaviours and practices across society to ensure that bullying and sexual harassment are not tolerated.”
“There is a particular responsibility on those charged with educating the next generation in ensuring that their students and learners are equipped to lead the change more widely across society.”
He added: “Everyone is entitled to a safe environment to study and work free from violence and harassment, and that informs the policy approaches and interventions that have been adopted across the sector.”
“The #unmuteconsent campaign is a key pillar of our consent architecture which supports our goal of zero tolerance and ensuring that we change the culture on every single campus.”
President of USI Beth O’Reilly also welcomed the campaign, saying: “We must all continue to work towards having zero-tolerance for sexual violence and harassment on all campuses, and among our student population.”
“This involves empowering students to increase their knowledge of consent, to change behaviours as needed, to speak out about consent and to report experiences of sexual violence and harassment.”
O’Reilly continued: “This is what the #UnmuteConsent campaign is about, and USI is pleased to be part of it, along with college and university management, and government. Consent awareness is increasing in our communities, and we need to keep building on the work that has already been done.”
The campaign is informed by the findings of surveys of sexual misconduct in higher education institutions in Ireland.
A survey conducted last year found that over a third of female students had experienced rape, while 54% of students said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment.