Simon Harris vows to confront sexual assault epidemic in third level education

The new Minister for Further and Higher Education, Simon Harris, said he was stunned by the results of a survey on sexual assault in third level institutions.

A man with short dark hair and a shirt and tie looks off camera

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Simon Harris, was “stunned” by the results of a new survey on sexual assault in third level institutions.

The survey – which was conducted by the Union of Students Ireland (USI) – showed that 35 % of female students, 28% of non-binary students and 10% of male students experienced non-consensual penetration.

Harris met the National Advisory Committee on sexual harassment and violence yesterday and said he will tackle these high rates of rape.

“A third of female students reported having been raped. Let that sink in. Two thirds had been sexually harassed. I didn’t think I lived under a rock but I was stunned by its findings,” Harris told ITV.

Although thousands of students have experienced sexual assault, the USI survey showed that many of those attacks go unreported. Almost half of all male students who had experienced non-consensual penetration hadn’t told anyone before they completed the survey.

54% of females, 37% of males, and 33% of non-binary students said they didn’t disclose the incident because they thought it was not serious enough.

Harris discussed how reports of sexual assault peak during freshers week and rag week.

He added that: “We also need to challenge the perception of what sexual assault and harassment is. Not all cases involve violence. Not all leave visible marks.”

“Consent is not an option,” he said. “It is a requirement. I don’t care what a victim was wearing. I don’t care how many drinks the perpetrator or the victim had. I don’t care if you believed he or she was ‘up for it’ or not. I don’t care if they came home with you.”

“Sex without consent is assault and it is a crime.”

Harris said he’ll work with Minister for Justice Helen McEntee to change sexual assault laws and that he is determined to deal with this “epidemic”.

Anyone affected by issues raised in this article can contact The Samaritans on 116-123 or text 087-2-60-90-90. Alternatively, free text HELLO to 50808 to speak to a crisis volunteer.

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