Rape crisis centres across the country have said that reports of rape and sexual assault among “vulnerable” first year students during the first few weeks of college are common and are a re-occurring issue.
Almost 50 students have reported incidents of rape and sexual assault in Galway in the last six months.
The figures follow the news that three college students reported rape in the first two weeks of college in Cork.
At least three female students reported rape during the first two weeks of college, the head of Cork's Sexual Violence Centre said.
Mary Crilly shared the figures at the Cork Joint Policing Committee (JPC) yesterday - and said while the statistics are "awful", it is something the centre sees every year.
However, executive director of the Galway Rape Crisis Centre Cathy Connolly said the numbers aren’t “uncommon” and that the amount reported doesn’t reflect the number of incidents, as many don’t report it until months after it happened.
“It’s an ongoing thing, we’ve seen between 45-50 students in the last 6 months. They don’t always come forward to report immediately,” Ms Connolly told Independent.ie.
“We would see people as young as 14. It happens in all our colleges across Ireland and in Galway, it’s not uncommon at all unfortunately.”
Ms Connolly explained that a trigger might encourage students to report sexual assault or seek help after it happened.
“Sometimes they come forward immediately, very often they don’t come for a few months. Young people think they can cope with this, until something triggers them and know they need help. They then often go through their GP or through parent or friend.”
She added that a similar number of reported incidents can be expected in the next six months, but that September and October are busy months as the college semester begins.
“I’d expect it to follow the pattern shown in the last six months, more could come forward by October,” she said.
“We are always very busy when colleges come back, first years can be quite vulnerable, but you might not see the figures straight away.”
CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre Noeline Blackwell said that while the centre receives many calls during Freshers Week, they receive a “stream” all year round with reports of incidents that happened in college.
“From talking with the team that run our phone lines, indeed there were a few calls from people who are newly arrived in Dublin colleges over the last few weeks to report sexual assault,” Ms Blackwell told Independent.ie.
“But the one thing they told me was that it’s not an unusual occurrence. This happens annually.
“What’s also the case is that some people may have been assaulted, who may not be able to admit it to themselves let alone other anyone else. We will see a stream during the year of people calling who are newly in college.”
Ms Blackwell added that consent is something that colleges should discuss with students as they learn to balance their “new levels of freedom”.
“It’s a pity that at a time when people are experiencing new levels of freedom and choice, they don’t have the language around respect and consent.
“That’s why we have made it our business to get out to the colleges, get out to Freshers, to mental health week, to be there and talk about consent.
“It’s really important and I’m glad Ms Crilly pointed out the specific examples in Cork but it’s something colleges must be seeing time after time- youngsters who don’t have the resilience or understanding to manage healthy development of sexual relationships.”
Earlier today, Mary Crilly of Cork’s Sexual Violence Centre told of how "predators watch out for young girls" each September.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio One's Morning Ireland, Ms Crilly said this is "the other side of Freshers' week".
"It is (awful) but I don’t think it’s unusual," Ms Crilly said on air.
"This is the other side of Freshers, we see it nearly every year. Unfortunately, it can happen in the accommodation they’re staying in, very few of them are on the street.
"It could be somewhere where they feel very safe."
Ms Crilly added that female students often feel they are to blame.
"They’re predators that watch out for these young girls, and these girls sometimes feel responsible because they drank or maybe they feel they were giving the wrong messages," she continued.
"They’re either saying nothing and they’ve dropped out, or we’ll come across more in the next few months that say this has happened to them.
"Predators are out there looking for them, it’s horrible. It’s a horrible way to think about life.
"These young people are going in, thinking about the future, the course they’re doing, the excitement of being out of home and feeling really grown up."
Labour spokesperson on Justice Seán Sherlock has called on Minister Mitchell O'Connor to lay out a timeline for the delivery of promised compulsory consent classes in Irish universities.
"The reports today of the rape of three students in Cork since the beginning of the academic year has horrified many. I think that these terrible assaults emphasise the need for a step up in educational campaigns surrounding consent," he said.
"We have seen in recent years through reports on rates of sexual assault on campuses that there is a significant deficit in understanding of consent among many students.
"The time for discussing such initiatives has passed and I am calling on the Minister for Higher Education to lay out a timeline for the introduction of compulsory consent classes on campuses around the country. She expressed great concern about the findings of the NUIG report back in August and pledged to bring consent classes on stream immediately.
"Such classes will be of little comfort to the victims of sexual violence which have already occurred but they could contribute to a reduction in sexual-based violence on campuses and I personally feel that anything which can make campuses safer should be rolled out immediately."
If you have been affected by this article, you can contact the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre’s National 24-hour Helpline on 1800 77 8888, or see their website on http://www.drcc.ie/