Abuse of female students increases each year

Female students are more likely to experience sexual harassment as they progress through college, according to a survey.

The Smart Consent Survey of approximately 400 students, conducted by PhD candidate Chiara Seery of NUI Galway, indicated that female students’ experiences of sexist hostility, sexual hostility, unwanted sexual attention, online sexual harassment, and sexual coercion increased each year as they passed from first year to third year.

More than 70% of third-year students had experienced sexist and sexual hostility and unwanted sexual attention when in third year, while 39% had experienced sexual coercion and 36% had experienced electronic sexual harassment.

The corresponding figures for male students, while lower overall, followed a similar pattern, with online sexual harassment the only category in which there was a fall in third year.

The figures were outlined yesterday at a University College Cork Law Conference on reforming the law and reforming attitudes in relation to sexual offences.

In a presentation, Dr Padraig MacNeela, senior lecturer in the NUIG School of Psychology, featured an analysis of 300 free text responses to a survey conducted among students as part of Ms Seery’s work on the issue of consent, showing 68% of respondents believed it was given verbally. Two-thirds believed sexual consent was understood to have been given by engaging in sexual activity, while less than half believed it was understood in a non-verbal way.

The Smart Consent Initiative developed at NUIG has now been used at eight Irish third-level institutions. The resulting profile indicates that half of the students are in a relationship and 69% were sexually active in the past month, including 28% of single students who said they had done so in a ‘friends with benefits’ scenario.

The research indicated between 59% and 63% said they binge drank at least once a month, while 37% of men accessed porno-graphy at least three times a week in the previous six months, compared with 39% of women who had used it at any point in the previous six months.

An earlier survey of almost 1,300 students at NUIG, conducted by researcher Elaine Byrnes, indicated 25% of women had experienced either physically threatening sexual contact or attempted unwanted physical contact. It also showed that a fifth of female first-year students and 25% of female second-year students said someone had sexual contact with them when they were unable to provide consent or stop what was happening because they were passed out, drunk, drugged, or otherwise incapacitated.

Yesterday’s conference at UCC also featured presentations from awareness advocate Niamh Ní Dhomhnaill and Dr Louise Crowley, vice-dean of the UCC School of Law, among others, and a keynote address from Noeline Blackwell, CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre.

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