Irish colleges to hire full-time staff to tackle sexual violence and harassment

The new plan announced by Minister Harris aims to promote a zero-tolerance culture on sexual violence and harassment in Irish colleges.

A photo of the Trinity College Dublin, among the colleges that will hire new staff to tackle sexual violence and harassment on campus.
Image: Via Instagram - @trinitycollegedublin

CW: Mention of sexual assault, violence and harassment

Colleges in Ireland are set to hire full-time managers tasked with implementing a new plan to respond to and prevent sexual violence and harassment on university campuses.

The Ending Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment in Higher Education Institutions plan was launched on the morning of October 13, at an event with student and staff leaders. It addresses the issue of sexual violence and harassment in colleges in Ireland and aims to promote a zero-tolerance culture on these issues.

17 new Sexual Violence and Harassment (SVH) Prevention and Response Managers will be hired full-time across Higher Education and their roles will involve collecting data on the issues, rolling out consent classes and training staff and students to respond. The plan focuses on education, research and supports, outlining measures to be developed and implemented by 2024.

At the launch event today, Further and Higher Education Minister Simon Harris announced an additional €1.5 million in funding for the implementation of the plan, secured in Budget 2023. “These posts will help make a real difference in driving the cultural change we need right across third-level for a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment,” the Minister commented.

He added, “There is a particular responsibility on those charged with educating the next generation in ensuring that their students and learners are equipped to lead the change more widely across society.”

The plan was developed on the basis of recommendations included by the HEA Advisory Group in the National Surveys of Staff and Student Experiences of Sexual Violence and Harassment in Irish Higher Education Institutions, published in January this year. According to the report, more than 1,100 students reported experiences that are consistent with a legal definition of rape. Moreover, 7% of respondents said that they had been forced into oral sex, while 14% disclosed that they had been subjected to oral sex while incapacitated and therefore unable to consent.

In addition, according to the surveys, female and LGBTQ+ students were most likely to perceive sexual violence and harassment as problems in Irish colleges.

The executive director of Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) Cliona Saidlear welcomed the new plan, saying: “What we’ve heard from early on in tackling this problem on campuses is that what is needed is dedicated people working on this, as opposed to the volunteer staff members, working on top of their existing job, that we’ve mostly seen up until now”.

“Tackling the problem is fundamental to all institutions,” she explained, adding that “a tremendous amount of work has gone into getting us to where we are now”.

Last year, RCNI launched a new training programme for counsellors and therapists to deliver support for all survivors of sexual violence, working closely with TENI to make sure that the training was “fully Trans-inclusive and appropriate to this community”.

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