Ashling Murphy killing sparks surge in demand for bystander intervention programme

The UCC programme was originally meant for 10 schools in Cork, but they have since been inundated with requests from schools all over the country
Ashling Murphy killing sparks surge in demand for bystander intervention programme

Prof Crowley said there has been a huge spike in interest in the bystander intervention programme since the killing of Ashling Murphy. Picture: Zambreroireland

The expert behind UCC's bystander intervention programme says she has been "inundated with requests" from schools across the country wanting to sign up to a pilot scheme in the wake of Ashling Murphy's killing.

Professor Louise Crowley of UCC’s School of Law says the pilot programme will be rolled out to participating schools after Easter, after funding was granted this week by the Irish Research Council. 

It aims to educate and empower young people to speak up as a bystander when they notice sexual harrasment and violence, and demand a zero-tolerance approach.

Since the tragic murder of 23-year-old-teacher, Prof Crowley said there has been a huge spike in interest in the programme, particularly amongst secondary schools that want to get involved with the pilot.

“It was originally supposed to be about 10 schools in Cork, but since last week, I have been inundated with requests from schools all over the country,” she said.

“Principals really want their students to have these conversations. They want these things to be addressed and not brushed under the carpet," Prof Crowley said.

"They want them front and centre for their students to talk about. That's why there's been such an embracing of this pilot, and the growing appetite for it right across the country,” she added.

Professor Crowley said that the interest from second-level educators is welcome, as sometimes intervention at third level can be too late.

“People come to third level with these behaviours ingrained already, or people are already victims of sexual harassment and violence, or have perpetrated it. 

"I have a feeling this pilot will be really meaningful and impactful,” she said.

“There’s so much work to be done, but there’s also such an appetite for it in schools, sports organisations, and large corporations. 

"I think that we need to grasp that, because we can't presume that's going to stay. 

"We can’t presume that people will continue to have these conversations unless we facilitate them or support them to have them, and provide them with the information,” she added.

The Bystander Intervention programme was first piloted in UCC in 2016 by Professor Crowley; it is now a voluntary module available to all staff and students in UCC, as well as being incorporated directly into the curriculum in some courses. 

The secondary school pilot is a continuation of a similar pilot in 2019 that was cut short due to the pandemic. 

Participants complete self-directed online workshops, a group interactive session, and a personal reflection, all of which explore different scenarios around sexual assault and violence, and how and when a bystander can intervene in a safe way.

The secondary school pilot will consist of six classes, pitched at TY level, with each centring around a key issue such as intervention inhibition, what constitutes sexual harassment and violence, and what an intervention looks like.

Prof Crowley said the 2019 secondary school pilot was very successful before it was cut short.

“We modified all of the material and all of the language to make it age-appropriate, but we did not hide from the issues,” she said. 

We did talk about rape, we did talk about sexual assault, we talked about consent, we really brought the issues home.

“The students said it was the first time that these issues were discussed in language that was recognisable to them,” she said. 

"They were really grateful for that sort of honesty, calling out the key issues and giving them an opportunity to talk about lad culture and behaviour in a way that they hadn't before.”

Those interested in participating in or learning more about the Bystander Intervention programme can visit the website or contact bystander@ucc.ie

  • If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please click here for a list of support services.

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