Minister Harris launches surveys on sexual violence and harassment in HE Institutions 

Minister Harris launches national staff and student surveys on sexual violence and sexual harassment in Higher Education Institutions 

A ground-breaking survey into staff and student experiences of sexual violence and sexual harassment in Irish Higher Education Institutions is being launched today (April 12) by Simon Harris T.D., Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.

The survey, which will begin today and will be conducted by the Higher Education Authority, will be sent to every student and staff member by their Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). There are over 30,000 staff and 235,000 students in higher education.

It will ask students and staff to detail any experience of sexual harassment or sexual violence. This includes crimes of sexual violence, sexual cyberbullying of any kind including non-consensual taking and/or sharing of intimate images, creating, accessing, viewing, or distributing child sexual abuse material online or offline, stalking behaviours whether online or offline in a sexual context, and any verbal or physical harassment in a sexual context.

It will also ask staff their knowledge of policies, the availability of training and whether they feel safe in reporting allegations.

Speaking today, Minister Harris said:  “This will be the opening of a conversation with students and staff of our higher education institutions.

“It is a conversation which may trigger difficulties for many people. Sexual harassment or sexual violence can be committed by a person of any gender. We know this can occur between people of the same or different genders, but we know the majority of victims are women.  It is often targeted and perpetrated to demean, diminish, and intimidate. 

“Sexual harassment or violence can happen between strangers or acquaintances, including people involved in an intimate or sexual relationship.

“Our priority here is to have an open and honest conversation about sexual harassment and how our third level sector can become a leader in confronting these challenges.”

At the request of the Minister, the Higher Education Authority (HEA) was asked to conduct these national surveys with a view to informing future national equality, diversity and inclusion planning.

In order to create a robust evidence base for further policy decisions in relation to tackling sexual violence and sexual harassment in higher education, the HEA has been working with stakeholders to develop standardised national surveys of staff and students to monitor their experiences.

The surveys have been developed in consultation with an expert advisory group comprising a mix of experts and stakeholders from key groups, including the Irish Universities Association, the Technological Higher Education Association, the Union of Students in Ireland, the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Rape Crisis Network Ireland, the Rape Crisis Centre Forum and the national research funding agencies.

HEA Chief Executive, Dr Alan Wall said: There is no longer a situation where reports of sexual violence and sexual harassment can be simply regarded as a bureaucratic issue or referred to external agencies. A cognitive shift is needed: one student sexually assaulted on campus or one early career researcher sexually harassed, is one too many. Staff and students need to be supported and the HEA, through this and other work in the area, is committed to ensuring a national higher education culture which is safe, respectful and supportive. 

Dr Ross Woods, of the HEA Centre of Excellence for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion stated: These surveys are an important step in quantifying the prevalence of sexual violence and sexual harassment across Irish campuses. However, we already know that a problem exists. Clear and transparent systems to review the effectiveness of institutional policies will be key to ensuring that we tackle this issue and that all staff and students in our campus communities have the confidence that we can do so.

The survey will be open for a number of weeks and its findings will be presented to the Minister.

In addition, Minister Harris will update Cabinet later this month on Action Plans requested by Higher Education Institutions.

Anyone impacted by these issues should contact their Higher Education Institution or text 50808 for help. There is also a list of organisations, listed below, which may be able to help.