The higher education minister of Ireland was “stunned” by a report showing that almost one-third of female and non-binary students are raped at college or university, and has vowed to tackle the prevalence of sexual assault.
A Union of Students Ireland (USI) survey, published in June, found that 29 per cent of female, 10 per cent of male and 28 per cent of non-binary students are raped during their time in college.
Simon Harris, the minister for higher education, met the National Advisory Committee on sexual harassment and violence Monday (July 27) and said he will tackle these shockingly high rates.
“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.
University rapes are not being reported.
The USI survey involved tens of thousands of students at Ireland’s colleges and universities.
It found that thousands of students had experienced serious sexual violence and harassment, but many did not report the incidents as they didn’t think it was serious enough.
“We know that reports of sexual assaults and rape peak during freshers and rag weeks,” Harris continued.
“We also need to challenge the perception of what sexual assault and harassment is. Not all cases involve violence. Not all leave visible marks.
The more we see it through a gender specific lens, the more likely we are to fail.
“We must challenge the misconception that this is a woman’s issue. The more we see it through a gender specific lens, the more likely we are to fail.
“So, it is time to cop on. It is time for us to confront this and it is time for us to do something about it.”
Harris said he was aware that sexual harassment, sexual intimidation, rape and gender-based violence are becoming increasingly common crimes, describing the situation as an “epidemic”.
“Thankfully, many victims are more willing to come forward now but the warning signs in the USI survey should be a cause to action,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t be assuming that “the problem begins or ends in our third-level institutions”.
“I want the third-level sector not to be a problem area but a leader,” Harris vowed. “In respect. In inclusion. In zero tolerance. Consent is not an option. 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.”
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