Comment & Analysis
Jun 28, 2020

Universities Have Been Too Slow to Tackle Sexual Misconduct on Their Campuses

A new report shows scarily high levels of sexual harassment and assault at third-level.

Léigh as Gaeilge an t-Eagarfhocal (Read Editorial in Irish) »
By The Editorial Board

This week, the results of a survey conducted by NUI Galway and the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) showed us what many students unfortunately already know – sexual harassment and assault are scarily common on campuses.

Three in 10 female students, we learned, have experienced non-consensual penetration during their time in college, while over half have experienced some form of sexual misconduct.

If these results are shocking, then they’re also dispiritingly unsurprising.


What they show is the inadequacy of universities’ attempts so far to tackle the issue. And, hot on the heels of a document on Ireland’s new government that made a virtue out of finally implementing the recommendations of a year-old report, they show that Ireland’s government hasn’t exactly addressed it as a matter of urgency.

The language in the draft programme for government – promises to “commission a survey” here and “create a specific action plan” there – suggests that there was little revolutionary thinking in deciding how the government would tackle what USI last year called an “epidemic”.

It’s hard to see evidence of much real action taken since the launch of the framework 14 months ago, and it’s not obvious where exactly the €400,000 funding committed to third-level has been used. This month’s programme for government would seem to suggest that universities are starting at ground zero when it comes to making the changes it advocates.

This Editorial Board has previously written that conversations about how universities handle sexual assault are long overdue. Given that Ireland is currently experiencing something of a #MeToo moment online, real action to tackle a horrifically widespread problem has arguably never been more urgent.

In recent years it’s been students and their unions, not universities, that have led when it comes to initiatives around consent. Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union pioneered consent workshops for students, for instance, and USI has also been proactive on the issue – as demonstrated by this week’s comprehensive report.

But students shouldn’t have to disguise the inertia of university decision-makers, and the government, on issues of such gravity. Rape and sexual assault are crimes – it’s high time universities started treating them that way.