Over half of female students experience some form of sexual misconduct during their time in college

The results of a survey of 6,000 third level students suggest 44% of students experience some form of sexual misconduct while in college

44% of students experience some form of sexual misconduct during their time in college, according to the results of a new survey of third level students.

52% of female students, 27% of male students and 49% of non-binary students reported having experienced sexual misconduct during their college years.

When asked which perpetrator tactics they were exposed to during an incident of sexual misconduct, 32% of students said their perpetrator used acts of coercion, 34% said they were assaulted while incapacitated and 20% experienced force or the threat of force.

These figures are according to the Sexual Experiences’ Survey (SES) released today by the National University of Ireland Galway’s (NUIG) Active Consent Programme in partnership with the Union of Students in Ireland (USI). The survey looked at students’ sexual violence and harassment experiences in Irish higher education institutions. 

6,026 students completed the survey between February and April of 2020.

The results showed that 29% of females, 10% of males, and 28% of non-binary students reported non-consensual penetration by incapacitation, force, or threat of force during their time in college. Of the students who reported experiencing this form of sexual assault, 49% of males, 35% of females, and 25% of non-binary students said they had not disclosed the incident to anyone.

Among this group of students who did not report, 54% of females, 37% of males, and 33% of non-binary students said they did not disclose the incident because they thought it was not serious enough.

Over 50% of first year students reported experiencing sexual harassment in the form of some form of sexual hostility since beginning college. This rose to 62% for second year students, and 66% for undergraduate students in third year or succeeding years.

The Sexual Experiences Survey was the first national survey addressing university students’ sexual experiences in the last eight years.  

The survey assessed experiences based on consent education and help seeking knowledge, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and disability, providing an intersectional view of sexual violence and harassment in the Irish college experience.

Sexist hostility was the most common form of harassment experienced by all student groups, ranging from 46% of Asian students to 70% of white Irish students.

Students identifying as Asian or Asian Irish consistently reported the lowest rates of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment. Students from other white backgrounds, black or black Irish backgrounds and other backgrounds reported similar rates across most areas.

56% of students with a disability reported an experience of sexual misconduct by any tactic, compared with 42% of other students.

Over 40% of students said they had a high level of awareness of four services that respond to students affected by misconduct, which are the counselling service, student services, the health unit, and Students’ Union Welfare Officer.

Undergraduate students who had attended workshops, events, and talks related to sexual conduct consistently reported higher awareness of support and services compared with students who had no exposure to consent education of this kind.

USI Vice-President for Welfare, Róisín O’Donovan said of the survey’s results that they show “a gap in knowledge” among students of how to report an incident of sexual assault to their college and what should happen when a report is made.

“In the survey just over 70 per cent of respondents who experienced sexual misconduct said they don’t understand what happens when a student reports an incident to their college, while only 16 per cent, again who had an experience, said they had received information on where to get help from their institution and only just under 10 per cent said they knew how to report an incident,” she stated. “These are areas that can be addressed very quickly by Higher Institutions and that needs to be one of the on-campus actions taken as a result of these survey findings.”

The 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.

Dr Pádraig MacNeela, Senior Lecturer in Psychology in NUI Galway, report co-author and Active Consent programme leader commented that the survey findings “provide a stark depiction of the experiences that many students have had.”

“Over 1,000 of the female students who took part in the survey described incidents that correspond to rape, while one quarter of male students said they had been subject to sexual misconduct during their time in college,” he continued. “Bisexual, non-binary, and queer students described particularly high levels of sexual harassment.”

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 26 March due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

 Dr Lorraine Burke, NUI Galway Post-Doctoral Researcher and report co-author said: “The SES survey shows there is a gap that our colleges need to make up in order to respond to students’ needs.”

She added: “Not only the needs of the large percentage of students who are directly affected by sexual misconduct and harassment, but also their peers – the people they are most likely to share these experiences with and who will be best placed as active bystanders to intervene to prevent future incidents.”

“Fortunately, the Department of Education and Skills supports the Consent Framework launched in 2019, which is one of the most progressive policies that there is internationally,” Dr Burke continued. “Thanks to these efforts of Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Ireland has the opportunity to take a stand on sexual violence and harassment, to make a difference in the lives of students, and to be a best practice role model for the rest of our society.”

Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor, launched the Department of Education & Skills ‘Consent Framework’ in April 2019. The framework was established by government with the aim to change the culture within third level institutions on the issue of consent.

Shannon Connolly

Shannon Connolly is the Editor-in-Chief of the 69th volume Trinity News, and a Senior Sophister student of English Literature and Philosophy. She previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.

Finn Purdy

Finn Purdy is the current Deputy Editor of Trinity News. He is a Junior Sophister English Studies student, and a former News Editor and Assistant News Editor.