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Colleges did not investigate majority of sexual assault and harassment cases reported by students in 2018/19

Minister Simon Harris says colleges have until February to publish their action plans on tackling sexual violence and harassment.

LESS THAN HALF of sexual assault and harassment concerns reported by students in the 2018/19 academic year were investigated by colleges.

In 2019, information was collected from 19 higher-level institutions, where information was available.  

A total of 31 students reported cases in the 2018/19 academic year, but only 15 were investigated by colleges.

The data shows that the number of reported cases has been increasing over the years, and while investigations by universities and colleges have also increased, they do not investigate all cases reported. 

In the 2013/14 academic year, 13 students reported cases of sexual assault or harassment, however, colleges investigated just three cases reported.

The following year, the number of cases reported increased to 15, but less than half of those cases – just seven – were investigated by the institutions. 

The same number was reported in 2015/16, with ten cases investigated. 

In 2016/17, the number of cases reported by students fell to ten cases, but only two of these cases were investigated. 

There was a jump in cases reported by students the following year – 36 cases in total – but despite being the largest recorded numbers by colleges, just 12 of these cases were investigated by the colleges.

The data comes just weeks after Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin spoke out about her “horrific” experience of sexual harassment by a colleague in University College Dublin.

Higher Education Minister Simon Harris told TheJournal.ie:

“In August 2020, I wrote to the Presidents of all publicly funded HEIs in relation to strengthening the implementation of the Framework for Consent in HEIs – ‘Safe, Respectful, Supportive and Positive: Ending Sexual Harassment in Irish Higher Education Institutions’ – which was launched in April 2019.”  

Harris said he has requested that all colleges develop and publish specific institutional action plans on tackling sexual violence and harassment by February 2021.

Earlier this year, nine Irish colleges signed up to an €80,000 online system that allows students to anonymously report experiences of sexual assault. 

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Some of Ireland’s largest colleges, including Trinity College Dublin, NUI Galway and Maynooth University, have signed up to the system, which is funded by the Department of Education. 

The reporting system will be available on each of the colleges’ websites and will resemble an online form. 

It will provide students with the means to anonymously report sexual misconduct, with hopes that the data provided from the reporting system will provide a broader picture of sexual violence on colleges campuses. 

This data will in turn be used to inform the specific types of sex and consent education provided to students.

Alongside the system, students will still be able to report to their colleges any incidents of sexual assault and harassment. 

The minister said the new college action plans will involve the implementation of systems that allow for the recording of the number of incidents of bullying, intimidation or harassment including sexual harassment reported in each institution.

The Higher Education Authority has oversight of the Framework for Consent, and institutions will be required to report annually to the Authority once the institutional action plans are in place, said Harris.

The number of reported cases of sexual assault and harassment by students has been increasing since 2013.

The number of reported cases of sexual assault and harassment by students has been increasing since 2013.

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