Simon Harris to call on third-level to tackle 'epidemic' of sex crimes

Simon Harris to call on third-level to tackle 'epidemic' of sex crimes

Simon Harris will address sexual harassment and violence today.

Simon Harris will today ask those involved in third-level education and beyond to arrive at three concrete proposals that can tackle what he will call the "epidemic" of sex crime.

Mr Harris will meet the national advisory committee on sexual harassment and violence in third-level education today as part of his new role as Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, and is expected to spell out his intentions on tackling issues such as consent and sexual harassment both on campus, and in homes around the country.

The minister has already met with the Union of Students in Ireland, which presented its survey of sexual harassment in educational institutions. The findings included that a third of female students reported having been raped, and two-thirds said they had been sexually harassed.

The minister is understood to have been "stunned" at the findings, and is expected to state today that sexual harassment, sexual intimidation, rape, and gender-based violence are becoming increasingly common crimes.

He is expected to address the ways in which rape and sexual assault are part of the nation's culture, involving arenas such as violent pornography viewed on smartphones, toxic atmospheres in sports clubs, and the perils of social media and in workplaces, homes, pubs and nightclubs. 

The minister will call on the third-level sector to be a leader in addressing these issues in a "zero tolerance" environment.

"Consent is not an option," the minister will say. "It is a requirement.

Sex without consent is assault, and it is a crime.

"We cannot address these issues unless we confront the uncomfortable reality that this is happening."

The minister will say efforts to tackle these issues will not be a "box-ticking exercise".

"I challenge us here to come up with three concrete proposals to implement within 12 months. I challenge us to have a conversation with each other about how we reach those we need to."

He is also expected to refer to reports that sexual assaults and rapes peak during freshers and rag weeks, and the need for everyone to "cop on". 

"It is time for us to confront this, and it is time for us to do something about it.

"It is a conversation we must have in every household, on every campus."

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