A NUI Galway staff member has led a state-published report into student and staff experiences into sexual harassment and violence in higher education.
Dr Pádraig MacNeela from the NUI Galway School of Psychology led the survey which was launched by Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris.
The survey was launched in April 2021 and was carried out by the Higher Education Authority (HEA).
The HEA sent the survey to higher education institutions (HEI’S) across the country, receiving over 11,000 responses from around 7,900 students and 3,516 staff members.
“The 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,” stated Dr MacNeela.
“Taken together, the findings described a varied picture of strengths and resources, negative experiences and gaps in knowledge.
“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.
“By taking part in these surveys, students and staff across the country have highlighted for us the priorities that should be addressed to create a positive culture of respect, safety, and consent.”
While the findings found many students said that they felt safe from sexual violence and harassment at their accommodation and around campus, two-thirds of student stated they had experience of being treated differently because of gender with 63% stating it had happened more than once.
54% of respondents said they had experienced examples of sexual harassment such as repeatedly being told offensive sexual stories or jokes.
58% had experienced unwelcome attempts at being drawn into a discussion of sexual matters and 57% dealt with offensive remarks about appearance, body, or sexual activities.
14% also admitted they had partaken in sexual acts while they were unable to give consent with 7% saying they were physically forced to do so.
83% of staff members agreed that they would be willing to complete training on disclosures while 81% said they would undertake bystander intervention awareness.
The number willing to take consent awareness training if it were offered by their HEI was slightly lower at 76%.
A quarter of staff members that responded to questions about sexual harassment, the most common complaint at 60% was sexist hostility.
Low levels of sexual violence were reported by staff, but the most common form of unwanted sexual contact was being touched in a way that made them feel uncomfortable.
Minister Harris thanked students and staff that took part and said the survey provided guidance for improvements despite the severity of the findings.
“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.
“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,” he continued.
“This is a society wide issue and must be urgently tackled. In 2021, I asked all of the HEIs to publish action plans to tackle sexual violence and harassment, aligned with the Framework for Consent, and good progress is being made in implementing these across the sector, but there is much more to do.”
If you have been affected by any issues in this article, there are supports available at www.womensaid.ie, Samaritans helpline at 116 123, and LGBT Ireland at 1890 929 539.