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College consent crisis: students forced or threatened into sex

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Crisis of consent: Students find themselves forced or threatened into sex. Photo posed by model. Photo: Depositphoto

Crisis of consent: Students find themselves forced or threatened into sex. Photo posed by model. Photo: Depositphoto

Crisis of consent: Students find themselves forced or threatened into sex. Photo posed by model. Photo: Depositphoto

Almost one in three female students has been subjected to sex involving force or incapacitation due to alcohol or drugs.

The extent of sexual harassment and violence among students in Ireland emerges in a report published today. It highlights issues with unwanted touching, lack of consent and the use of threats or force.

Report co-author Dr Pádraig MacNeela, a lecturer in psychology, said it provided “a stark depiction of the experiences that many students have had”, including the “more than 1,000 females who described incidents that correspond to rape”.

The victims are not only women – 29pc of females reported such experiences alongside 10pc of males and 28pc of non-binary students.

More than 6,000 students in four universities and 10 institutes of technology completed the survey between February and April this year. It aimed to provide the first comprehensive snapshot of positive and negative student sexual health experiences, through measures that have been used in international studies.

It involved NUI Galway's Active Consent awareness and education initiative and the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).

While the Sexual Experiences Survey (SES) is not based on a representative sample, the number of responses considered sufficient indication of a serious problem.

The combination of the lack of or inability to give consent and the tactics used in these incidents most closely correspond to the legal definition of rape used in Ireland.

Dr MacNeela, who leads the NUI Galway Active Consent programme, also noted a quarter of males said they had been subject to sexual misconduct during their time in college. Bisexual, non-binary, and queer students described particularly high levels of sexual harassment.

USI vice president for welfare Róisín O'Donovan said the 6,000 responses showed perceptions and practices regarding sexual consent and misconduct "remains a huge issue among students".

Questions about sexual misconduct explored non-consensual contact ranging from unwanted touching to attempted or completed penetration, including where incapacitation or the use of force, or threat of force, was a tactic.

The problem starts in first year when more than one-third (38pc) of students report being victims of some form of sexual misconduct, most commonly while incapacitated. This rises to almost half (47pc) by the time they finish college.

Findings include:

  • 52pc of female, 49pc of non-binary, and 27pc of male students experienced unwanted touching, completed or attempted penetration.
  • 36pc of females, 32pc of non-binary, and 12pc of males experienced non-consensual completed penetration.
  • 29pc of females, 28pc of non-binary students, and 10pc of males described at least one experience involving tactics of incapacitation or force.
  • 49pc of males, 35pc of females, and 25pc of non-binary students who experienced non-consensual penetration through force or while incapacitated did not disclose the incident to anyone, many because they thought it was not serious enough.
  • 35pc of males, 29pc of females, and 29pc of non-binary students who experienced non-consensual penetration by tactics of incapacitation or force said the perpetrator was a student at their college.
  • About 75pc of male or female students knew the perpetrator, while a higher proportion (38pc) of non-binary students reported the perpetrator was a stranger.

More than half of students (56pc) with a disability reported an experience of sexual misconduct, compared with 42pc of other students, and rates of non-consensual penetration and use of incapacitation or force, were also higher for this group.

Students identifying as Asian or Asian Irish reported the lowest rates of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment.

University students reported slightly higher levels across all sexual misconduct measures and were also more likely to experience sexual harassment.

Irish Independent