Saturday 23 March 2019

Sexual consent workshops for students should be compulsory after 'troubling' report - Minister

Junior Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor launched the research on sexual consent. Photo:
Junior Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor launched the research on sexual consent. Photo:
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Sexual consent workshops may become mandatory for students in all third-level colleges in the wake of new research on sex-related attitudes and behaviours on campus.

Higher Education Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor said she thought it was time to make them compulsory, describing as "troubling" findings from a study by NUI Galway.

More generally, Ms O'Connor said she wanted all colleges to demonstrate a uniform minimum standard of best practice to address issues such as sexual harassment and assault.

She said it was both timely and appropriate to formulate a standard of institutional responsibility and to incorporate it formally into governance and regulatory requirements "for anybody delivering publicly funded third-level education".

The minister acknowledged good work was already being done, but she wanted to move the voluntary commitment that many institutions already demonstrated to a formal footing.

She said she would be collaborating with the sector and at a broader level to arrive at the best fit for such a standard.

Key findings of the study, led by Dr Pádraig MacNeela of the NUI Galway School Psychology and the university's SMART Consent team, and which involved more than 3,000 students in a number of colleges, included:

  • 70pc of female and 40pc of male students experienced sexual hostility or crude gender harassment during their college years;

  • 25pc of women students experienced unwanted sexual contact or attempts at unwanted sexual contact through the use or threat of violence;

  • 71pc of female and 63pc of male students were dissatisfied with the sex education they received at school;

  • 67pc did not consider a female character in a story too drunk to give consent after she consumed 28 standard drinks - the equivalent of a bottle of vodka, 14 pints of beer or more than three bottles of wine.

  • The NUI Galway team runs consent workshops in the university and have also trained facilitators in other colleges.

    Dr MacNeela said the percentage of students who "strongly agreed" they felt well informed about sexual consent after a workshop was 71pc, compared with 29pc before.

    Consent is a major focus of a review of sex education in schools, with a view to introducing the concept in an age appropriate way. For primary school pupils, it would be covered by respect in relationships.

    Irish Independent

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