As another academic year begins, a ground breaking pilot project called “Promoting Consent In Sexual Encounters” is underway in the School of Health and Social Sciences at IT, Tralee. This project is a partnership between the Institute, the HSE Health Promotion & Improvement Department and the Kerry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre. The project involves provision of training around the issue of consent for academic staff of the School of Health and Social Sciences and volunteer student peer educators who in turn will deliver a workshop to all first year students in the School. The Institute is the first college in Ireland to deliver peer-led mandatory consent workshops.
The project was initiated in response to the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) national study of student’s experiences of sexual harassment, stalking, violence and sexual assault, “Say Something”, which found that nationally 20% of women and 7% of men experienced some form of unwanted sexual experience.
A key message of the project is that consent is given, informed, mutual, sober and involves willing participation by all parties in sexual activity. The project aims to promote a positive healthy sexuality approach to sexual behaviour by taking responsibility for ones own behaviour, seeking consent and understanding healthy relationships.
The USI study highlighted that when a sexual assault occurred, many students did not know where to go to seek support. It also highlighted that most who disclosed it, did so to a friend. In an effort to support both the victim and the friend the IT, Tralee project has developed a comprehensive list of support services both within and external to the college and will communicate these to students.
Speaking at the initial training session for staff and student volunteers, Marguerita O’Neill, Lecturer in Social Care said “This educational campaign sits within a wider IT, Tralee project known as sipITT, whose main aim is to promote, empower and motivate students to make informed and healthy lifestyle choices to support their well-being. No doubt the campus and the wider community will greatly benefit from the project Promoting Consent in Sexual Encounters”.
Director of the Kerry Rape & Sexual Abuse Centre, Vera O’Leary stated “The Kerry Rape & Sexual Abuse Centre is actively involved in prevention work. However, we recognise that more is needed to be done in our locality regarding primary prevention. The aim of this pilot project is to prevent young people from becoming victims and perpetrators of sexual violence. We are aware that there is a “grey area” around the issue of consent and this extends to reporting. We know from research that from the moment of a sexual assault to the moment of disclosing to someone who can support you, is a journey taken alone by many victims. It does not have to be an unsupported journey. We hope that every student attending the college will be aware that sexual violence is totally unacceptable and know where to access support.”
Máire O Leary, HSE Health Promotion and Improvement Officer said that this has been a very positive proactive partnership project between IT Tralee, HSE and Kerry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre. It is encouraging to see IT Tralee lead the way becoming the first college in Ireland to address the issue of consent using a coordinated approach incorporating training, mentoring, policy review and a Student Union campaign. The project promotes a welcome healthy discourse in the area of sexual consent. She would especially like to acknowledge the student volunteers who gave their time to attend training and deliver on workshops to their fellow students.