A survey investigating the sexual health and attitudes of students at NUI Galway has revealed that a quarter of female participants reported attempted or completed forced sexual assault.
This finding is akin to what was discovered during a similar survey in the United States. This has led President Barack Obama to set up a task force to address the rates of sexual assault at college campuses in the US. Its aim is to help colleges and universities prevent and respond to sexual assault reports, as well as hold them accountable for failing to do so.
The data revealed by the NUIG survey also revealed that 11.5 per cent of females report being certain or uncertain that a sexual assault took place while being incapacitated - passed out, drugged, drunk, or asleep. Unsurprisingly some worrying facts came to light about the relationship between sex and alcohol. 48 per cent of male and 28 per cent of female students surveyed said they had sex with people under the influence of alcohol but they would not have done so if sober.
Nearly half of the male participants admitted they found it harder to say no to sexual advances when under the influence of alcohol while this was an issue for 27 per cent of female respondants. Around 60 per cent of both males and females reported they would be less nervous about sex when alcohol was involved.
Research staff at NUI Galway undertook the SHAG (Sexual Health and Attitudes Galway 2015 ), which is the first of its kind ever undertaken in this country, to help devise a sexual health strategy for the future. Questions related to sexual health demographics, behaviours and attitudes, consent, sexual assault, self-control, frequency and comfort of engaging in different sexual activities, and general health.
The online survey was launched in February, in collaboration with the Galway Alcohol Forum and the Healthy Cities initiative. Students were invited to voluntarily participate and researchers revealed there was a very strong take-up rate. The preliminary findings reveal answers from a subset of 1,500 students, which were drawn from the overall number of participants.
Doctoral researcher Elaine Byrnes says there was no data of this type available up to now. "I would like to thank everybody who took the time out to partake in this survey. They have made a great contribution to our research and helping to formulate sexual health policies into the future. The figure of 25 percent for reported attempted or completed sexual assault concurs with findings of other similar research in both the UK and US. The findings are shocking but this is not unique to Galway, or, indeed Ireland. The issue of sexual consent is so important, it made it to the White House"
Ms Byrnes says it is one thing to undertake a survey like this but university staff are intent on addressing its findings. Workshops concentrating on the area of sexual consent are now scheduled to take place at the college from September. "There is a need for education in this area and we are committed to addressing what are inferred deficits in both education and resultant understanding of consent to sexual activity. I will spend the summer analysing this data which will be used to inform the consent workshops. These workshops will be piloted during the summer and be ready to roll out in September. We have to get this right. It is our aim that people will leave the workshops educated and informed - empowered really."
Lecturer at the School of Psychology, Dr Pádraig McNeela, said the research suggests that consent is currently a grey area for many students. "We wish to promote the idea of consent being active, on-going, and clearly expressed. It is important to consider how this lack of clarity might contribute to the problem of sexual assault, and a culture that might perpetuate gender-based harassment and violence. It is also essential that we promote a positive approach to sexual relationships, where people feel confident to express their preferences and make informed decisions."