An anti-sexual abuse course developed in University College Cork is to be made mandatory for all new students at University College Dublin.
The bystander intervention course, which focuses on how to help when you see someone at risk of predatory behaviour, was developed by UCC’s vice dean at the School of Law, Dr Louise Crowley.
All current first years at UCC, approximately 3,800 students, attended a mandatory 30-minute session as part of the programme on their first day on campus last year.
“It’s not all about putting on your Superman or Superwoman cape and making a big save for someone in distress,” Dr Crowley said. “It can also be about calling out behaviour that is insidious and continuous and has created this very toxic world that students now think that they have to live in.”
A longer six-hour version of the course, which includes online modules and workshops where participants role-play scenarios, is also available on a voluntary basis to all of UCC’s nearly 22,000 students.
The programme’s goal is not just to educate individuals about consent, but to change the culture to make it more acceptable to call out sexual misconduct.
“With the bystander approach, you’re speaking to everybody in the room,” Dr Crowley said. “Will there be perpetrators in the room? There’ll be victims and survivors in the room.
But when you speak to someone as a bystander, you’re speaking to their best side.
"You’re saying: ‘you’re not involved, but you can be the person to make a difference.’”
Next September, 5,500 incoming UCD undergraduates will be given a mandatory 90-minute course on bystander intervention as part of the university’s orientation programme.
Dr Crowley said UCD was just the first of approximately 10 higher learning institutions she has been funded to upscale the UCC course out to, including Trinity College Dublin, NUI Maynooth, IT Tralee, University of Limerick, and Dublin City University.
A version for secondary schools has also been developed and rolled out for transition and fifth-year students in Bandon, Carrigaline, Clonakilty, Mallow, and Midleton and two schools in Cork city.
“When I delivered the lessons in person, a number of students came forward with disclosures that they had already been assaulted or raped,“ Dr Crowley said.
“This is an issue that arises so much earlier than third level. It’s awful but it’s true. So, getting the students to talk about this at 15 and 16 is so crucial.”