Yesterday, the USI launched the Say Something report, based on surveys taken by students in Irish third level institutions earlier this year. The survey looked into students’ experiences with harassment, stalking, violence and sexual assault, focusing largely on their experiences while on campus.
One of the main issues with harassment and assault is the lack of understanding among people as to what is and isn’t acceptable or appropriate behaviour – the ‘lad culture’ which is passed off as banter adds to the acceptance and normalisation of sexual harassment, obsessive behaviour, violence and sexual assault.
1 in 10 women* have experienced comments with a sexual overtone which made them feel uncomfortable while in a learning environment, and a further 34% experiencing such comments on campus or in a student’s union area. This is often passed off as ‘banter’ or a joke which shouldn’t be taken seriously, but this means that people won’t report their experiences as they feel as though their concerns would be dismissed or they would be told to ‘learn how to take a joke’ . Fear of dismissal, or previous dismissal, is an important factor when looking at why experiences of sexual assault or harassment are not reported to the proper authorities, especially when it’s verbal harassment.
12% of women* have had their bottom pinched, slapped or groped while in a learning environment or in a student’s union area, and 7% have had their breasts groped. 6% of men have experienced similar harassment. The figures are largely the same for all genders when asked about inappropriate sexual contact outside their campus, with most non-campus groping happening in bars or nightclubs, a friend’s home, or their own home. The fact that the figures are similar when in a nightclub as when on campus is frightening. While many people, women in particular, are aware of the threat of molestation on a night out, many wouldn’t consider that they’re just as at risk while on campus.
While a lot of pop culture (think the Twilight series) romanticises obsessive behaviour and the idea of someone being persistent when pursuing a love interest, the reality for people experiencing obsessive behaviour is anything but romantic. 10% of women and 5% of men reported experiencing obsessive behaviour or stalking. Most perpetrators of obsessive behaviour were acquaintances (27%) or ex-partners (15%), and many who experienced stalking reported a dramatic dip in their motivation in both academic and social affairs. Again, very few people reported experiencing stalking or obsessive behaviour by fellow students – 12% of men and 8% of women reported it to campus authorities, and just over 6% reported it to the Gardaí.
The study also looked at the experiences of LGBT* people in comparison to those of cis-gendered heterosexuals. LGBT* people were more likely to experience obsessive behaviour (17% vs. around 8% for cis-gendered heterosexuals), violence (22% vs. 14%) and unwanted sexual contact (25% vs. 16%). While LGBT* students made up about 15% of the total number of students surveyed, they accounted for around a 25% of the total instances of both rape and violence.
In 2002, the SAVI (Sexual Assault and Violence in Ireland) report was published. 11 years on, not much has changed – the same proportion (1 in 5) of women* have been sexually harassed or have experienced unwanted sexual contact. The main difference between the two reports is the way in which harassment happens. The prevalence of social media has changed the way people experience unwanted sexual or gendered comments, harassment and obsessive behaviour.
This report, along with the many others over the past few years, tell us that sexual assault, harassment and violence is happening to students, and also that it’s happening while they’re in a learning environment. This validates and vindicates the stories of those who have come forward and reported their experiences, but it doesn’t tell us why this behaviour is happening, nor why it’s seen as acceptable or just something that happens.
This is the first survey in Ireland of this type and size. Campus’ all over Ireland are becoming more aware of the harassment that’s almost commonplace, and are taking action to create awareness and reduce instances of sexual harassment, obsessive behaviour and violence. The ‘Don’t Be That Guy’ campaign was launched in a number of different institutions over the last year to encourage students not to be bystanders when they witness sexual harassment or assault. A new campaign Y=S!, which is being launched by NUIG Students’ Union next week, challenges how we think about consent and rape, highlighting the fact that anything other than an enthusiastic, sober and ongoing yes to sex is rape. But Students’ Unions and institutions need to keep up this good work. One of the most striking findings of the study is that students don’t know where to turn or who to ask for help when they experience a sexual crime. It is the role of Students’ Unions to look out for their students’ best interests, and one way they can do this is by cracking down on the harassment, obsessive behaviour, violence and sexual assault experienced by students.
If you have been affected by anything in this post, or would like to get more information about sexual harassment or assault, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre has a 24 hour helpline at 1800 77 88 88.
The full Say Something report can be found at http://issuu.com/theusi/docs/say_something_final_online_report__