University of Limerick President Dr Des Fitzgerald said that incidents of sexual assault on higher education campuses in Ireland are grossly underreported.
We know that the number of official complaints of sexual assault made every year in no way reflects the reality or the frequency of sexual assault or harassment that students may have encountered either at UL or on any other higher education campus,” he said.
Dr Fitzgerald was commenting in the wake of a survey across 14 third-level colleges showing high levels of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment.
Among the shocking findings of the Sexual Experiences Survey were that up to one in three female students in Ireland who responded had been subjected to sex involving force, or incapacitation due of alcohol or drugs.
While it was not a scientific survey involving a representative sample of students, 1,000, or 29pc, of the women who responded reported such incidents, along with 28pc of non-binary students and 10pc of men.
Among the other issues that emerged was a low level of reporting of such incidents.
Prof Fitzgerald said in recent years UL had focussed on continuing to provide a safe environment for students and staff, and on putting supports in place to encourage victims of any kind of discriminatory or abusive behaviour to make an official report.
He said it had led to “a small increase in reported cases but the number still does not reflect the reality and we will continue to do more to support our students in reporting any instance of any kind of discriminatory or abusive behaviour, including sexual assault or harassment.”
Dr Fitzgerald said it was sensitive issue for victims and “unfortunately, most victims of sexual assault or harassment do not wish to make official complaints and so it is difficult to get a full picture of the size of the problem on any Irish higher education campus.
“This is something we must and will change at UL and indeed should be encouraged at all universities.”
The said UL was developing a Sexual Health and Wellbeing Policy, including a protocol for crisis situations, which would be in line with the recently published National Consent Framework for Higher Education.
To enhance security on campus, UL has installed six dedicated emergency call point pillars, with built-in strobe lights. In the event of the call button being pushed, the caller will be immediately connected with a member of the Campus Security Control Room.
UL also provides voluntary consent workshops/training for every incoming student, which in in the coming semester will take the form of virtual workshops.
Among the other measures being implemented at the university in the autumn, is a Report and Support system to provide students with the means to anonymously report sexual misconduct, sexual harassment and all other forms of unacceptable behaviour including racism and homophobia.