MINISTER of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor is considering making classes on sexual consent compulsory in all Irish colleges, following a series of workshops at the University of Limerick.
The research undertaken at UL and three other colleges, as well as surveys involving more than 3,500 students at NUI Galway, examined how alcohol and other factors affect sexual consent among the student population.
In one survey, 753 students were asked to assess the level of consent in a scenario where both male and female characters were drinking.
20 per cent of the respondents considered the female character too drunk to give consent after she consumed 14 standard drinks, while this rose to 33 per cent after she had 28 standard drinks.
14 per cent considered the male character too drunk to give consent after 14 standard drinks, while 30 per cent considered him too drunk after 28 standard drinks.
Deputy President and Student Welfare Officer of UL Student Life (formerly UL Students’ Union), Lorcan O’Donnell said they would wholeheartedly welcome compulsory sexual consent classes.
He added that consent classes were something that the UL students representative body has been pushing for in recent years.
“My predecessor was able to get consent workshops as part of mandatory tutorial time for some classes last semester which found some success, and feedback from these were included in the NUIG report.
“This year we’re hoping to continue and expand this and get a large number of first-year students educated on the topics of sexual consent and harassment during tutorial times and other important first year mandatory events.”
He said that UL Student Life would be taking a strong stance on tackling sexual assault, sexual violence and rape culture this year.
“With all that has occurred in the last year including the #MeToo campaign, the Ulster rape trial and now this report, sexual consent is part of the nationwide narrative and there are conversations being had about it. This is the time to jump on the back of that and educate our students.”
Mr O’Donnell said he plans to do this through widespread consent classes, campaigns and events.
“Teaching eighteen and nineteen-year-olds about consent in college when many of them have already had sexual partners, in my opinion, is too late,” he said.
“But until the government can pass an all-inclusive, far-reaching sex education bill for primary and secondary schools, Irish colleges and UL will continue to champion for sexual consent as a way of preventing rapes and sexual assault.”
Last January, a mix of twenty UL staff and students were trained in giving Smart Consent workshops which formed part of the NUIG research.
Former Welfare Officer Roberta Harrington organised the training along with funding and support from UL during her term in office.
“We met a number of first-year groups, across all faculties, to give the consent workshops. Some workshops had great attendance, and there were also workshops with little or no attendance. It was our aim as an SU however, or as a group of trainers, to deliver the workshops to as many people as possible and to get the feedback we did.”
Ms Harrington said the hope was that consent workshops would become compulsory for all first-year students in UL and while it hasn’t happened yet, positive steps have been taken in this direction.
“The feedback from students proved that they felt the consent workshops were eye-opening, informative, and extremely thought-provoking,” she said.