42% of women in their first year of college report experiencing unwanted sexual touching

A study carried out by Active* Consent to promote positive sexual health among college students examines the role of alcohol and drugs on sexual violence

Unwanted sexual touching was reported by 42.4% of women and 50% of non binary individuals in data gathered by the 2020 Sexual Experiences Survey carried out by the Active* Consent programme.

Almost 30% of women and non binary individuals reported experiencing completed penetration against their will which is in line with the definition of rape. 22.4% of men reported unwanted sexual touching and 9.2% experienced completed penetration against their will. Coercion (34%), incapacitation (35%) and the force/threat of force (20%) were also experienced by high numbers of women surveyed. 

The report went on to clarify that “the sub-group of completed penetration through incapacitation, force or threat of force was isolated as it closely aligns with the definition of rape in the Irish legal system.”

The findings of this report show that sexual violence increases due to drug and alcohol use. 

The report by Active* Consent states that: “Recreational drug use among college students in Ireland continues to rise and most first-year college students in Ireland report hazardous alcohol consumption.”

Hazardous alcohol consumption was reported by 65.1% of women, 72.2% of men and 47.6% of non binary individuals. The report also found that non-consensual penetration in women rose to 35% when a hazardous level of alcohol was involved. This number increases to 44% of women who used ecstasy and 48% of those who used ketamine or cocaine. 

The report went on to say: “Higher rates of experience of all forms of sexual violence since beginning college were found among female and male students who reported hazardous alcohol consumption, or cannabis/marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy or ketamine use in the last 12 months.”

It concluded that “victims of sexual violence are in no way responsible for an assault, even if incapacitated in any way through substance use” and highlighted the importance of “substance use education”.

1,778 first year college students aged 18 to 25 were surveyed as part of the study. 20 higher education institutions (HEIs) were invited to take part in the study of which 14 accepted.


The Active* Consent programme has been working on education around sexual consent since 2013 and began working with HEIs, schools and sports organisations in 2019. 

Speaking at the launch of the 5-year Active* Consent programme, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris said: “It is essential we equip the next generation with the skillset and the knowledge needed on consent.” “The launch of this Active* Consent Programme is another step towards tackling an extremely serious issue that can have lifelong consequences for the victims” he continued. 

2023-2027 will see the programme develop an international outreach project for HEIs and also expand its training into the public and private sector while maintaining its current work throughout Ireland.

Aoibhinn Clancy

Aoibhínn Clancy is the Deputy News Editor of Trinity News and is currently in her Junior Sophister Year studying History and Political Science.