Consent Education to prevent sexual violence
We welcome Trinity College Student Union’s initiative to propose mandatory consent classes to first year students. There is well developed evidence behind this initiative which recognises that consent education is critical to preventing sexual violence.
Working with the Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI), USI first made the inclusion of consent mainstream across it sexual health activities in 2013. That same year USI with the support of Cosc developed and undertook the first quantitative research of sexual violence experiences on campus (the ‘Say it’ report ) while RCNI commissioned the School of Psychology NUIG to undertake qualitative research of 3rd level students resulting in a report entitled, ‘Young People, Alcohol and Sex: What’s consent got to do with it?’.
Dr Padraig MacNeela at NUIG extended this work to include large surveys on student experiences of unwanted sexual contact and consent. Based on the research findings he and his team developed the Smart Consent initiative in 2015 – consisting of theory- and evidence-driven workshops and other engagement strategies. Working in collaboration with USI, Student Unions, Student Services, RCNI and a number of the third level institutions, notably UCC, this group have recently received a Research for Policy and Society grant from the Irish Research Council and the HSE Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme to study the implementation of the Smart Consent workshop approach.
Meanwhile an RCNI collaboration of Rape Crisis Centres reviewed long standing education practice. One of those leading centres, Kerry Rape and Sexual Abuse centre went on to work with the HSE and the local 3rd level Tralee IT and the Students Union to set up an interagency partnership. Under that initiative the KRSAC delivered training to three of the IT’s schools, nursing, social studies and health promotion, who in turn trained up students who then delivered peer led workshops to all incoming students in those schools last year.
Influenced by these activities a range of doctoral and post-doctoral research projects on sexual activity, culture and consent are now underway across a number of universities. The various consent workshops continue to be rolled out and the critical conversations across campuses and about how we run and support programmes, how we evaluate them and how the target audience accesses them, continue.
In the research young people themselves identified how unprepared they felt for the complexity of negotiating sexual activity and they strongly recommended consent workshops be delivered at school age. Much work is being undertaken to address this critical gap. RCNI have a 5 year collaboration with Foróige to provide an integrated consent and sex and the law training to young people 12- 24 and has recently developed consent modules for inclusion in the B4uDecide.ie Relationship and Sexual Education resource materials. The Be4uDecide.ie resource materials are being revised by the HSE Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme as an action under the National Sexual Health Strategy 2015-2020. The 2nd National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based violence aims to develop relevant education programmes within Youth Reach with the Department of Education and Skills.
TCD SU is to be commended for taking up this challenge and we look with interest at their innovation in making the workshops compulsory.
Clíona Saidléar, PhD
Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI)
Carmichael House, North Brunswick St., Dublin 7