The first survey measuring sexual violence on college campuses has recorded “deeply troubling findings” when it comes to the level of harassment experienced by the staff and students who took part.
Published this Thursday morning by Higher Education Minister Simon Harris, the survey was conducted by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) in 2021.
A total of 11,417 responses, from more than 7,900 students and more than 3,510 staff members, were then analysed by a team led by Pádraig MacNeela from NUI Galway.
Of the students who answered questions on sexual violence, 7% said they had been physically forced into oral sex, while 14% said they were subjected to it while “incapacitated” and unable to give consent.
More than 1,100 female students reported experiencing “non-consensual vaginal penetration through coercion, incapacitation, force, or threat of force”.
This description used in the survey corresponds closely with the legal definition of rape.
Of the students who answered survey questions relating to sexual harassment and sexual violence, the majority of students said they experienced sexist hostility.
This includes the experience of being treated differently because of gender, with 67% of students reporting this happened at least once.
A further 63% reported experiencing offensive remarks, and 66% said they had been put down or condescended to because of gender.
More than half of the participants said they had experienced examples of sexual harassment such as repeatedly being told offensive sexual stories or jokes (54%), unwelcome attempts at being drawn into a discussion of sexual matters (58%), or offensive remarks about appearance, body or sexual activities (57%).
More than half of the students who took part in the survey had seen three forms of awareness around consent, sexual violence, or harassment through social media campaigns, students’ union campaigns, and posters.
Almost one in 10 had taken part in a bystander event or viewed a drama on consent, sexual violence, or harassment.
First-year students were also more likely to have taken part in consent or bystander initiatives.
In recent years, consent initiatives have been included as part of orientation for students starting higher education.
Of the staff that responded to the questions in relation to sexual harassment, a quarter described experiencing sexualised comments, nearly one-third described sexual hostility, and 60% described sexist hostility.
Three-quarters or more of the staff members agreed they would be willing to complete training on disclosures (83%), bystander intervention awareness (81%), and consent awareness (76%) if such training was made available by their higher education institution.
The survey findings point to some “positive developments” in the higher education institutions that can be built upon in areas such as awareness-raising and education, Mr Harris said.
“But there are also some deeply troubling findings, such as the levels of sexual harassment experienced by staff and students that responded to the survey and particularly the female students that reported that they had experienced sexual violence.”
Students and staff who took part in these surveys provided insights on a wide range of topics, across sexual violence, harassment, consent education, and supporting others, said Mr MacNeela.
Taken together, the findings described a varied picture of strengths and resources, negative experiences, and gaps in knowledge, he added.
“For example, a majority of people trusted that their college will support them, and a large majority endorsed positive behaviour and active consent.”
“Yet alongside these strengths, there were gaps in knowledge about how to make complaints or access supports through their institution. We also identified a high level of sexual violence and harassment experienced by students in particular.”
- If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please click here for a list of support services.