Ambitious new plan launched to address sexual violence and harassment in higher education
By Maura O'Shea
Posted: 13 October, 2022
Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD, has today launched the Higher Education Authority’s new plan to address sexual violence and harassment in higher education institutions.
The plan responds directly to the recommendations that emerged from the national surveys of student and staff experiences of sexual violence and harassment in higher education, conducted by the HEA in 2021. It was developed in collaboration with the HEA’s expert Advisory Group on Ending Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment in HEIs.
The ambitious plan represents a holistic and multifaceted response to the survey findings through the inclusion of 19 actions, to be delivered at institutional and national level, by key stakeholders between now and the end of 2024.
The actions set out in the plan encompass awareness-raising, education and training for staff and students, specific initiatives to target high-risk and hard-to-reach groups, further research, and a review of the outcomes set out in the national policy framework that was published in 2019.
The reports of the national surveys indicated concerning levels of sexual harassment and violence in higher education, highlighting an urgent need for action. Female students were particularly likely to experience sexual harassment and violence, and a relatively high level of exposure was found among gender non-binary students, bisexuals, students who were gay, lesbian or queer, and students with a disability. Worryingly, a low level of student respondents agreed that they knew where to go to get help on campus.
The survey report also points to more promising findings, including positive attitudes and intentions among of the vast majority of students and staff, and opportunities to build on progress achieved to date.
One action already underway for the month of October is the #UnmuteConsent national campaign, which aims to mobilise students to learn more about consent, personal responsibility, and how they can make a difference.
Minister Harris, on launching the plan said:
“We listened to what students and staff in our Higher Education institutions had to say, and we have a plan that responds directly to the issues raised. There is no room in our higher education institutions nor our society for the tolerance of any kind of sexual violence or harassment. I am confident that this plan will go towards driving further awareness and delivering safe and tolerant places for learning and work. I want to thank all those involved in bringing forward this implementation plan, and in particular the staff and students who responded to the survey, sometimes having to speak about experiences that have been hurtful and traumatic to them. I want to thank them for their bravery in speaking out and assure them we are working to ensure there is zero tolerance for this behaviour.”
CEO of the Higher Education Authority, Dr Alan Wall, said:
“Not only will the delivery of the implementation plan to end sexual violence and sexual harassment in HEIs support the achievement of our vision of an institutional campus culture which is safe, respectful and supportive, it will contribute towards a culture shift in higher education that has the potential to catalyse transformative change in our wider society.”
Notes for editors:
- The HEA’s Centre of Excellence for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion supports and oversees the implementation of Safe, Respectful, Supportive and Positive: Ending Sexual Violence and Harassment in Irish Higher Education Institutions,which was published by the government in April 2019, and is often referred to as ‘the Framework for Consent in Higher Education’.
- In April 2021, at the request of the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, TD, the HEA conducted national surveys to monitor the experiences of students and staff in relation to sexual violence and harassment, in order to create a robust evidence base for further policy and funding decisions in relation to tackling sexual violence and harassment in higher education institutions (HEIs).
- The HEA established an expert Advisory Group on Ending Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment in HEIs (ESVH Advisory Group) in January 2021 to support this work. In collaboration with this advisory group, the HEA Centre of Excellence for Equality Diversity and Inclusion developed and ran national surveys of staff and students to monitor their experiences in April 2021. Summary and detailed reports are available on the HEA website. Please note: The survey reports discuss experiences related to sexual harassment and violence. Some of the language is explicit and some may find it uncomfortable. Information on support can be found here.
- 11, 417 responses were received (7,901 students and 3,516 staff). The survey reports provide a picture of student and staff attitudes towards and experiences of sexual violence and sexual harassment, as well as their awareness and confidence in HEI policies, processes and initiatives in the area. They set out a number of recommendations for action, which are addressed by the ‘Ending Sexual Violence and Harassment in Higher Education Institutions, Implementation Plan’ 2022 – 2024’ (ESVH Plan). The plan was developed by the HEA with the support of the HEA ESVH Advisory Group.
- The implementation plan was formally launched by the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD, at an event in Dublin today, 13 October 2022. Anna Bull, co-director of the 1752 Group which conducts research and campaigns to address sexual misconduct in higher education in the UK, delivered a keynote address at the event. The panel at the event included Noeline Blackwell, Chief Executive Officer of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre; Treasa Fox, Head of Student Counselling TUS Midlands and chair of Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education in Ireland (PCHEI); and Gavin Friel, actor and research assistant with the Active* Consent team at the University of Galway.
- The HEA Advisory Group on Ending Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment in HEIs will maintain oversight of progress towards the delivery of the actions outlined in the plan, in close collaboration with the HEA. The group will meet on a regular basis to monitor implementation.
- #UnmuteConsent is a social media campaign running for the month of October 2022, that aims to mobilise the student community to make a difference, by speaking out, by enhancing their own knowledge about consent, and ultimately, by changing behaviours. It is led by the IUA in partnership with THEA and USI and is supported by the HEA.