A culture of zero tolerance to verbal or physical sexual harrassment is to be encouraged at one of the country’s largest universities by the expansion of an intervention programme to all 22,000 students.
The Bystander Intervention initiative will urge University College Cork (UCC) students to consider their shared responsibilities and to act on them to prevent and combat sexual harrassment and violence both on and off campus.
The programme has already been piloted over two years through workshops with UCC students of law, applied psychology, nursing, and midwifery, led by Louise Crowley of the university’s law school.
It is being made available to all students at the college as an online module. It is to be launched today at a conference marking the start of UCC’s inaugural Bystander Intervention Week, being attended by minister of state for higher education Mary Mitchell O’Connor.
“The issue of sexual violence and harassment, unwanted advances and unsolicited abusive comments is a deeply ingrained societial poison and one which is no less prevalent among third-level students,” Ms Crowley said.
“Through initiatives such as the Bystander Intervention programme, we can create an environment which demands an awareness of the unacceptability of all such behaviour.”
In turn, Ms Crowley said, students can be educated to recognise that they can effect cultural change. It is also intended that students will be empowered to recognise the problem and to speak up as part of a collective voice and reject any attempt to normalise violence and harassment.
The online platform will allow to students develop an understanding of the key issue of consent, and the boundaries surrounding sexual assault, rape, and abusive relationships.
Ms Mitchell O’Connor said she hopes what is learned from the new initiative will be applied in all other colleges.
“The third-level experience is a period of growth, a time for exploration and the first true experience of independence in a young person’s life,” she said. “This should not be marred for anyone by the unacceptable behaviour of another.”