New campaign focuses on consent for college students

New campaign focuses on consent for college students

First year students at a Sexual Consent   and Bystander Intervention workshop in the Aula Maxima, UCC last month. Picture: Larry Cummins.

Students will be encouraged to speak out and report sexual harassment and violence in a campaign around consent in third-level institutions.

The campaign is in response to findings that sexual violence and harassment "is a problem on higher education campuses and is under-reported", those behind it said.

Dubbed #UnmuteConsent, it seeks to encourage students in "speaking out/reporting unacceptable behaviour and accessing support", as well as actively "challenging perceived norms of unacceptable behaviour".

The campaign follows stark findings in a recent report on sexual violence and harassment among students.

Some 7,900 students completed a survey as part of the National Survey of Student Experiences of Sexual Violence and Harassment in Irish HEI in 2021.

Almost three-quarters of female students had experienced offensive sexist remarks, and 62% of students experienced unwanted attempts to establish a sexual relationship.

About a fifth of students felt shy or lacked confidence in engaging in active, verbal consent. 

While a majority of students agreed that they felt safe from harassment and violence at their accommodation and around the campus, around four in 10 agreed that sexual violence and harassment were a problem at their higher education institution.

The campaign has been launched by higher education institutions; representative bodies such as the Irish Universities Association and the Technological Higher Education Association; the Higher Education Authority; and the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).

President of the USI, Beth O’Reilly, said: “We must all continue to work towards having zero-tolerance for sexual violence and harassment on all campuses, and among our student population. This involves empowering students to increase their knowledge of consent, to change behaviours as needed, to speak out about consent, and to report experiences of sexual violence and harassment. 

"This is what the #UnmuteConsent campaign is about, and USI is pleased to be part of it, along with college and university management, and Government. Consent awareness is increasing in our communities, and we need to keep building on the work that has already been done.”

Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said the third level sector "must lead the way in changing cultures, behaviours and practices across society to ensure that bullying and sexual harassment are not tolerated".

The campaign will be visible on social media apps such as TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram, with those behind it saying it "will mobilise students to learn more about consent, about personal responsibility, and about how they can make a difference".

"By engaging with the support and training available in every institution, we hope that over time students will be more comfortable in speaking out/ reporting unacceptable behaviour and accessing support; being active and challenging perceived norms of unacceptable behaviour; talking about consent and relationships in a positive and confident way; practicing consent in their relationships and interactions," the campaign's website said.

Sexual consent is described as the freely given verbal or non-verbal communication of a feeling of willingness to engage in sexual activity. 

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