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This morning Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor announced a ring-fenced funding allocation of €400,000 for HEIs to deliver on recommendations from the Expert Group for Consent at Third Level, which included representatives of the Union of Students in Ireland, a process concluding after months of lobby efforts by USI.

The launch was attended by Mrs. Sabina Higgins, HEA Interim CEO Paul O’Toole, and SU representatives from across the country.

USI also announced today a partnership with USI and COSC Smart Consent in NUI Galway, which will see a full-time postdoc student overseeing the delivery of a national survey on experiences by students about experiences of sexual harassment and rape. This will be the first survey of it’s kind since the Say Something survey of students in 2013, which found that over 16% of respondents had experienced unwanted sexual contact while at their institution.

Síona Cahill, USI President and member of the Departmental expert group said:

“I’m here before you today not because consent was somehow picked as the next ‘gritty issue’ to talk about for the student movement, or because we’ve got all the answers. The student experience is one highlighted to us by students and their Students’ Unions across the country, and the issues of sexual harassment and non-consensual experiences at third level and within this age cohort didn’t start today or yesterday, we’re just finally being heard when we speak about them. Students’ Union Welfare officers deal with this coming into their office week after week.”

“The stats are clear. There are people behind them. Knickers, or what I’m wearing (or not wearing) are not consent, and we deserve better than attitudes that consider otherwise to go unchallenged”

“Sexual harassment in particular has often and easily become normalised in a space dominated by ‘being social’ and sharing more of yourself across multiple platforms. Photos are screen-shotted and saved and manipulated. They’re used to threaten, vilify, or hold over. Students and young people are being hurt by this behaviour, emotionally and physically. They’re subject to assault, and more often than not during all of this, they tell no one.”

“We are not being dramatic, we are not being ‘shrill’, we’re calling out an epidemic. We have campaigned on sexual health awareness and guidance for over two decades and there is finally recognition from Government that we don’t just need their concern, we need their resourcing to tackle a cultural and societal problem that we can’t ignore”

This week, the Irish Universities Association (IUA) launched an Indecon report on the reinvestment back into the economy and society that Universities make in the Irish third level system, a figure of almost €9 billion per annum.

Cahill further remarked:

“We need to recognise as a state the value of not only investing in education, but how that education system shapes society itself. Challenging prevailing campus cultures must be part of that mission. We must #FundTheFuture to demand a better future and indeed present, for us all.”

Vice President for Welfare of USI, Damien McClean who also sat on the expert group said:
“This framework report isn’t a celebration on what we have done, but a recognition of what we need to do. We call on HEIs to engage with this as a matter of urgency, and listen to student voices, particularly the voices of those who are most vulnerable; students from ethnic minorities, students with disabilities, and students who are LGBTI+”

 

  • The Framework was developed by an Expert Advisory Group who were convened following the workshop which was held by Minister Mitchell O’Connor in Dublin Castle on the 4th October 2018. The aim of the work shop was to hear first-hand from institutions, academics and students about what was really happening in our higher education institutions with regard to sexual violence and harassment. The Expert Advisory Group, which was chaired by Dr. Anne Looney from DCU, was tasked with devising standards that all institutions will be required to implement. The group’s membership included: Tara Browne – National Women’s Council of Ireland/ESHTE, Síona Cahill – Union of Students in Ireland, Dr. Louise Crowley – University College Cork, Dr. Padraig MacNeela – National University of Ireland, Galway Damien McClean – Union of Students in Ireland, Andrew Power – Institute of Art, Design & Technology Dun Laoghaire, Dr. Sinead Ring – Kent University, Cliona Saidléir – Rape Crisis Network Ireland
  • Key findings for the Say Something (2013) report indicated that 16% of students reported having experienced some form of unwanted sexual experience while in their current educational institution.
  • Only 3% recorded that they had reported these incidents to an official within their institution or to the Gardaí. The two most frequent reasons for not reporting were:

          (i) that they did not believe the incident was serious enough to report; and

          (ii) that they did not think that what happened was a crime.

  • The USI will partner with SmartConsent in NUI Galway, led by Dr. Padraig MacNeela on a survey of student attitudes and experiences of consent and sexual relationships as part of the Framework’s recommendations.

 

Damien McClean (VP Welfare, USI) with Dr Anne Looney (Former Interim CEO of the HEA, and current executive Dean of the Institute of Education, DCU), Minister for Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor and Síona Cahill (President of USI) pictured outside Government Buildings

 Damien McClean, Mrs. Sabina Higgins, Minister for Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor and Síona Cahill

 

Damien McClean with Dr Anne Looney , Minister for Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor and Síona Cahill

 

For Comment, Contact:
Aoife Duff | USI Public Relations & Communications Manager | E: pr@usi.ie | M: 083 881 2270
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