TW: Sexual Assault on College Campuses

We are currently living in an era where online activism and awareness is at its peak. With same sex marraige being legalised and the #MeToo movement trending platform-wide in Ireland, it is easy to presume that our nation has left behind its restrictive thinking and is on the right track towards becoming a non judgemental and open minded society. Unfortunately this is not the case. 


Sexual assault awareness month takes place every April, bringing with it important, yet difficult conversations that we as a society need to confront. Despite the advancements we as a country have made in recent years the statistics for sexual assault are still at an alarmingly high percentage, signifying that we have more work to do. 


According to a survey conducted by RTÉ, just over half of first year college students in Ireland reported experiencing sexual harassment since beginning college, with the statistic rising to 62% for second year students and 66% for third year students.


College students are particularly at risk of experiencing sexual assault. For many students, college is their first time away from home and is an opportunity to make new friends. In attempts to meet new people, students may become too trusting in mixing and attending house parties of people they don't know too well. Unfortunately this trust can be betrayed.


Sexual assault takes place in many different forms. Harder drugs have in recent years become more common in Irish youth, which can be used to medicate an unknown party-goer without their consent. This tactic is used to force victims into engaging in sexual activities, and often leaves the victim with a muddled memory the following day. Peer pressure is also a huge issue in college with drinking, drug use and engaging in sexual activities.


Those who live in on campus accommodation are targeted, with them being seen as most vulnerable. This is because in the dorms or apartments, there may not be anyone waiting up or expecting said person to be home at a particular time. 


Social media and technology play a considerable role in sexual assault crimes in Ireland. This can be through videoing or photographing an individual in a private setting without their consent, unsolicited sexting, the distribution of intimate photography and many more breaches of privacy. 


Victims of sexual assault are quite often assumed to be female. Countless articles online solely use the pronouns ‘she/her’, creating the idea that females are the only people who can experience sexual assault. This exclusive coverage may discourage non-female victims to report their assault. However, in the Irish Sexual Experiences Survey 2020, It was found that non-binary students are the most affected group facing sexual harrasment in college. 


It can be especially difficult for male victims to come forward and report sexual assault in todays society. Men are faced with negative stigmas in relation to being a victim of sexual assault due to the ideals often reinforced by society and cinema. Men have, since the beginning of cinematography, been portrayed as these tough warriors who show no signs of weakness or vulnerability. Because of this, men are conditioned to believe that venturing outside of that ‘tough warrior’ narrative tampers with their male identity. 


As mentioned previously, the media plays a huge role in sexual assault crimes. Not only does the media create crimes but it can also discourage victims to come forward and share their story. Posts, statuses and articles are constantly shared online about victims prosecuting or raising awareness on sexual assault. The comment sections are often met with trolls and victim-blamers. 


In 2018 the Belfast rape trial had the country divided in opinion. This womans story of her sexual assault was now up for debate and discussion by complete strangers. These types of events completely discourage victims from coming forward, fearing that they will have to revisit the traumatic memories, not be believed and be put on a pedestal to be judged by the country. 


College communities and society in general need to ensure that proper education regarding consent is always implemented. Students need to be protected by proper legislation and need to be educated about these laws.  Solidarity and compassion should always be offered in communities to ensure that victims feel comfortable to confide in others and can be given support in reportting any instances of sexual assault and harrasment.