ONE in every four students have experienced unwanted and aggressive sexual behaviour, including groping, sexualised verbal abuse and unwanted sexual contact, according to a study conducted at a Limerick third level college.
Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT) research collective, Social Science ConneXions, has found that up to 25 per cent of students surveyed earlier this year reported having experienced a “sexually unwanted or aggressive incident”.
The survey was conducted online across all four LIT campuses. 338 responses were received and the key findings also showed that five per cent had experienced a non-consensual sexual encounter and five per cent of male respondents had experienced a sexually unwanted or aggressive incident.
Karen Sugrue, Sociology lecturer and researcher with Social Science ConneXions said that while there was an enormous amount of evidence that students were particularly vulnerable to sexual assault and unwanted sexual behaviour, they wanted to find out if this was also the case for LIT students.
“We’re delighted with the response from the management team at LIT who have taken the issue extremely seriously”, she added.
LIT lecturer Jennifer Moran Stritch, who is director of the Loss and Grief research group, said that some people believed that the only type of sexual assault is rape.
“We are also aware of the importance of verbal abuse, atmosphere and the sense of feeling intimidated. We want our students to live and study in an environment where they feel safe and know how and where to access supports should they need them”.
Mairead Keogh, Vice President of LIT Students Union said that prevention of unwanted or aggressive incidents was the key to ensuring a safer environment for students and the students union strongly support the measures implemented.
LIT Registrar Terry Twomey said that LIT had an exemplary record in student safety on campus.
“We have had no reported incidents here at LIT, and we take pre-emptive action through our Student Safety Programme to ensure that we maintain our exemplary record. Nonetheless, as part of LIT’s Student Safety Programme, our Social Science Connexions unit carried out a small pilot survey of students on any experience of sexual harassment they might have had”.
He added that because LIT had no reported incidents, the negative experiences reported most likely related to life off-campus.
“Still, the institute is taking no chances. Last week, LIT introduced a new presentation on consent to all new students as part of our Student Safety Programme. LIT is leading the sector in this way and our objective is to maintain our exemplary record of student safety,” he concluded.
National research indicates that only about 1 in 10 incidents are reported. To address this and support students, LIT ran a programme of discussion about consent during September induction days for 1st year students that ties in with the No Grey Areas campaign launched nationally by Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform, Francis Fitzgerald, last Friday.