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(en) wsm.ie - Sexual Assault: What Colleges Can Do by Tom Murray
Tue, 16 Feb 2016 14:05:27 +0200
An investigation is currently under way at University College Dublin following reports
that up to 200 male students allegedly shared explicit images of women they had sexual
relations with. The incident not only highlights a culture of misogyny in Irish
universities, it also calls attention to the absence of material supports for effectively
responding to sexual assault on campus. But what kinds of supports should students demand
from Irish universities? ---- Trigger Warning: Discusses rape and ‘revenge porn’ image
sharing ---- Sexual assault is an urgent problem on Ireland’s university campuses.
According to research published by the Union of Students in Ireland last week, 11 per cent
of female respondents claimed that they had been subject to unwanted sexual contact. 5 per
cent of women recorded that they were survivors of rape and a further 3 per cent were
survivors of attempted rape. In a 2015 survey by Trinity College Dublin Student Union, one
in four female TCD students said they had had a non-consensual sexual experience. (Just
over 5% of male students had been subjected to an unwanted sexual experience).
These figures probably underestimate the scale of the problem. According to the Dublin
Rape Crisis Centre, only 1 in 10 rapes are reported. When asked by the USI for
explanations of why they did not report matters to the Gardaí students’ two most frequent
responses were (i) that they did not believe the incident was serious enough to report (57
per cent); and (ii) that they did not think that what happened was a crime (44 per cent)
The recent ‘revenge porn’ incident at UCD and the university’s response to it must be
understood in this wider context of the state’s material neglect of support services for
rape survivors. While Rape Crisis centres across the country offer counselling to about
2,500 people annually, the centres suffered funding cuts worth just over a €1million
between 2008 and 2014.
In this context, Irish universities tend to mirror the state’s approach and avoid
resourcing counselling programmes or on-campus rape crisis centres. Instead, universities
tend to focus predominantly on sanctions for those involved in breaches of their student
dignity codes. Somewhat exceptionally, recent reports suggest that sexual-consent classes
are available to first-year students at NUI Galway and IT Tralee, while Trinity College
Dublin has recently announced the introduction of mandatory consent workshops. Clearly, an
appropriate campus-based sexual assault programme should involve more than punishing
offences after the event. Two further goals are necessary: education about sexual violence
and prevention of sexual assault.
The Rape Treatment Centre (RTC) at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Centre has advanced the
following 10 point programme for responding to the problem of sexual assault on campus. It
is reproduced here not as a template to copy but simply to provoke thought and
conversation about whether Irish third-level institutions provide anywhere near the same
level of material resources, sensitivity, or policy comprehensiveness. So what exactly
should students and staff – men, women, and trans - demand of their fellow students and of
university administrations in Ireland? Let us know in the comments…
1. Official policy statement: Develop and give to every student an official, written
policy statement regarding sexual misconduct. Include information about the definition and
prevalence of sexual assault, the circumstances in which it commonly occurs, what to do if
it happens, university sanctions, campus resources, and prevention strategies. The policy
should strongly encourage victims to report these incidents.
2. Definition of sexual misconduct: Provide the campus community with a clear definition
of the behaviors that constitute sexual assault and other forms of sexual misconduct that
the university considers unacceptable and sanctionable. The same definition should be used
in the institution's sexual assault policy statement and the student conduct code
provisions that prohibit sexual misconduct.
3. Protocol for managing reported cases: Formulate a written "action plan" that outlines
how the school will respond when incidents of sexual misconduct are reported, including
who will be notified, what procedures will be implemented, and how the rights of victims
and accused students will be protected. Formalized procedures help ensure that victims
receive the support and services they need, as well as facilitate compliance with school
policies and legal mandates.
4. Systems for gathering and disseminating information about sexual misconduct: Initiate
systems for obtaining information about incidents of sexual misconduct that impact members
of the campus community -- reported cases as well as those that are not officially brought
to the attention of authorities. Develop methods for informing the campus community about
these incidents, including strategies for giving "timely warnings" as required by federal law.
5. Comprehensive services for victims: Establish a coordinated network of services to
ensure that victims have access to the range of medical, legal, psychological, safety,
advocacy, and other support services they need. Campus-based and/or community resources
should be utilized.
6. Educational programs: Institute comprehensive educational programs that reach all
members of the campus community. Utilize a variety of strategies to provide students,
faculty, and staff with opportunities to acquire information about sexual assault and
develop behavioral skills that will enable them to enhance their own personal safety, as
well as contribute to the safety of other members of the campus community.
7. Clear student conduct code provisions: Ensure that the college or university's conduct
code specifically addresses the problem of sexual assault. Code provisions should include
a strong prohibition against sexual misconduct, a clear definition of the school's
jurisdiction in these cases, and a listing of the rights and protections the school
affords both victims and accused students.
8. Fair disciplinary procedures: Establish procedures that ensure fairness to both victims
and accused students. Educate hearing panel members about the unique characteristics of
sexual assault and sexual misconduct cases. Provide safeguards to prevent
conflict-of-interest situations in disciplinary proceedings.
9. Campus security measures: Implement measures to decrease the risk of sexual assaults on
campus, including adequate lighting, effective residence hall security systems, escort
services, timely notifications of reported crimes, and ongoing information campaigns.
10. Ongoing assessment of policies, procedures, and programs: Conduct regular and timely
evaluations of all campus sexual assault policies and programs.
Words: Tom Murray
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