Minister Mitchell O’Connor convened a major higher education workshop on consent and tackling sexual violence

Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, with special responsibility for Higher Education has today (4th October 2018) brought together higher education representatives, students unions and other stakeholders for a workshop on consent and tackling sexual violence in third level education.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor said that “sexual harassment and assault are experiences too common for many of our third level students. I was appalled by the findings of a recent NUIG study which showed that some seventy percent of the women, and some forty percent of men, reported experiencing some level of sexual hostility by the end of their third level studies”.

At the workshop, she was joined by the Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, Garda Detective Chief Superintendent Declan Daly who is the head of the Garda National Protective Services Bureau and senior officials from the Department of Justice and Equality.

She added: “Sexual assault is a serious criminal offence so I am pleased that my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, is here today to support this work, along with his officials and the head of the Garda National Protective Services Bureau, Chief Superintendent Declan Daly, who is undertaking vital work in a key agency.

“The speakers at today’s event will outline the seriousness of the situation in our third level colleges at the moment and also speak about practical measures that can be taken, for example consent workshops.

“As Minister for Higher Education, I want to work with colleges to ensure that young adults are supported to achieve positive sexual health, while also challenging and tackling the unacceptable problem of sexual and gender-based harassment and, more seriously, sexual violence.

“This problem will only be effectively tackled by everyone working together. The third level institutions have a responsibility in this area, and many have run sexual consent workshops for their students. These programmes and workshops can have a significant positive impact on the students they engage with.

“While we have good practice in some colleges, it is important that all institutions integrate a proactive approach in their college policies. It should be possible to embed sexual consent education within the student experience – in the same way as institutions would do with other aspects of orientation.

“It is really important that students also take responsibility and I am hoping that the advice given by An Garda Síochána today will bring home the seriousness of these crimes. Every year over 40,000 students enter our third level sector. Students do not appear to be as sensitive as they ought to be to the impact of drinking and drugs on the capacity to give consent.

The Minister concluded: “This is an incredibly serious issue The reason why I have convened all the institutions, the experts in this field, as well as the student representatives, is I want to hear first-hand the initiatives within the institutions. What programmes they are developing, what programmes are most effective and what we need to do collaboratively and proactively to endeavour to eradicate this problem. Institutions need to follow best practice and to work collaboratively in addressing sexual harassment and assault. We all have a duty of care to our students, to protect them from sexual harassment, assault and safety from the fear and threat of it. I want the outcome of today to be a sharing of best practice and strategic collaboration on consent among our institutions and agencies”.