Transition-year pupils hold workshops on consent issue

A transition-year team told classmates yesterday: “No means no.”

The students at Mount Mercy College in Cork organised consent workshops for school friends.

Usually, third-level institutions hold workshops of that nature.

Director of the Cork Sexual Violence Centre Mary Crilly lauded the project.

“I think what Mount Mercy is doing, highlighting and raising the issue, is great.

“I see this age group as being the future. [The classes are about] letting young girls know, if a guy buys you a drink or is nice to you, it does not mean that they are entitled to use their body,” she said.

The Government is making moves to address gaps in the law involving cases of sexual violence and consent, but, as part of their “vitally important” Young Social Innovators (YSI) project, students in the transition-year class invited local gardaí, victim-rights groups, and self-defence experts to give talks on the topic of consent and sexual assault.

They felt so passionately about the consent issue, it was the natural choice when it came to selecting the topic for their project, said some of the students involved: Cara Desmond, Aoife Layzell, Aoife Casey, and Emma Crowley.

Cork Sexual Violence Centre director Mary Crilly speaks to transition-year pupils during a consent workshop at Mount Mercy College, Model Farm Road, Cork.

“There’s a lot of victim-blaming and it was topical at the time. We felt it was really something that affected girls our age, as well,” said Cara.

Asking For It, a novel by Clonakilty author and Irish Examiner columnist Louise O’Neill about victim-blaming following a sexual assault, also influenced their class, said Aoife: “We felt like it was a very important topic.”

Currently, there is no clear definition of consent under Irish law, something sexual violence victim groups campaigned to highlight in recent years. Last week, Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald addressed this gap by bringing forward a proposal to provide a definition of sexual consent in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill. The bill is in its final stage.

The Mount Mercy pupils strongly support the amendment.

“After we had started the project, we read an article on the definition of consent being brought into law and that really motivated us to get into the political side of it, as well,” said Aoife.

Emma said: “It has to be brought in. There’s such a grey area in the Constitution. It affects so many people, in Ireland and globally.”

Consent classes need to be introduced into more secondary schools, said Aoife, adding it’s also important the classes were available for boys.

“Usually, it’s just girls who are taught about it so much, but I think it’s important boys understand it, as well,” said Aoife.

Their teacher Mary Brosnan said she was impressed by the girls’ determination to undertake the project.

Sophie Coughlan with Andrew Quinlan from Carrigtwohill JH Kim Taekwando during their self-defence class.

“Once I listened to the girls, it was valid and you have to work with what’s valid. YSI is a great platform for giving a voice to these concerns,” she said.

“It was stuff I wouldn’t even consider, because, thankfully, I don’t have to, but I’m a mother, so I’ll be thinking of my children and their lives and [whether they’re] in a safe place, and that they know their rights.”

Consent classes are vitally important for young people, said Garda Brian Walsh, who spoke to the students.

“They give these young fellows and young ladies information about what’s going on; in relation to what they can do, what consent is, and how the law works in relation to crimes of indecency and sexual assault.”

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