Jun 22, 2020

Levels of Sexual Assault, Harassment High in Colleges, USI Survey Finds

Some 70 per cent of students who have experienced sexual misconduct don’t understand what happens when they report it to their college.

Ella ConnollyAssistant News Editor
Sinéad Baker for The University Times

Nearly a third of female students have experienced non-consensual penetration during their time in college, according to a new survey conducted by NUI Galway and the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).

The survey, which had over 6,000 participants, also found that 35 per cent of female students who had experienced non-consensual penetration – by incapacitation, force or threat of force – had not told anyone about the incident.

Some 28 per cent of non-binary students said they had experienced non-consensual penetration during their time in college, with 10 per cent of male students having had a non-consensual penetrative experience.


A quarter of per cent of non-binary students had not reported the incident, while 49 per cent of male students had not reported the incident, the survey found.

Over 1,000 of the female students who took part in the survey “described incidents that correspond to rape”, according to Dr Pádraig MacNeela, a co-author of the report and senior lecturer in NUI Galway.

And the survey found that 70 per cent of those who have experienced sexual misconduct don’t understand what happens when a student reports an incident to their college.

The Sexual Experiences Survey collected online responses from students in 21 third-level campuses in the Republic of Ireland between February and April 2020.

It offers “up-to-date information on students’ experiences”, Róisín O’Donovan, USI’s vice-president for welfare, said in a press statement.

She added that students’ lack of knowledge on how exactly to report an incident “can be addressed very quickly hy Higher Education Institutions and that needs to be one of the on-campus actions taken as a result of the results of these survey findings”.

The findings, described as “stark” by MacNeela, showed that 66 per cent of undergraduate students in third year or higher had experienced sexual harassment, in the form of sexual hostility, since beginning college.

Some 56 per cent of students with a disability reported an experience of sexual misconduct by any tactic, a figure that dropped to 42 per cent among other students.

Dr Lorraine Burke, a post-doctoral researcher in NUI Galway and the report’s other author, said the survey “shows there is a gap that our colleges need to make up in order to respond to students’ needs”.

O’Donovan added that just 16 per cent of students who had experienced sexual misconduct had received information from their college on where to get help, while only 10 per cent said they knew how to report an incident.”

The Sexual Experiences Survey is the first national survey conducted in eight years that addresses university students’ sexual experiences. The last large survey on this topic that USI was involved in was the “Say Something” campaign in 2013.

If you have been affected by, or would like to discuss issues concerning sexual assault or non-consensual behaviour, you can contact the Welfare Officer of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union by emailing [email protected] Emergency appointments with the Student Counselling Service are also available. You can phone Niteline, the student listening service, every night of term from 9pm–2:30am on 1800 793 793, or the Samaritans at any time on 116 123. The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre can be reached at 1800 778 888.

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