Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor has launched a four year research programme at NUI Galway promoting sexual consent.
The Active Consent research is being undertaken by the same group behind the SMART Consent programme which has been holding consent workshops after detailing disturbing trends in sexual behaviours
Now this team will be undertaking a four year effort to implement a new programme targeting people from 16-23 years of age to promote positive attitudes towards sexual consent.
The SMART Consent team produced a report which found that nearly three quarters of female students and half of men face some kind of sexual hostility by the time they finish third level education.
Since then the team have been hosting consent workshops at NUI Galway and other universities, and training facilitators to carry on the work.
These have been very positively received by students with hundreds attending in Galway.
This new initiative goes even further, reaching outside of universities to partner with a number of schools and sporting organisations.
The Active Consent programme is led by Dr Pádraig MacNeela, Dr Siobhán O’Higgins, and Kate Dawson from the School of Psychology, and Dr Charlotte McIvor from the Centre for Drama and Theatre Studies.
Welcoming the announcement President of NUI Galway Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh said, “NUI Galway is committed to ensuring that all our students have a safe and positive experience with us.”
“We are also determined to ensure we share our knowledge and expertise in research, practice and the arts to address wider societal challenges.”
“I am confident that this Active Consent programme will have a positive impact on the lives and futures of countless young people and I commend Lifes2good Foundation and our partners in education and sporting organisations for their initiative in joining us in this important work.”
“Together we can achieve the culture of respect and equality that we wish for our young people,” he said.
Minister O’Connor commended the team for finding a “new and original” approach for tackling issues of sexual equality and violence, which she said is badly needed.
“The team are taking on a difficult subject in a positive way that respects young people’s capacity for independence and decision-making.”
The Minister, who has previously supported mandatory consent education in universities, said that there is a need for a national standard for tackling sexual violence at universities.
“I am confident that my expert group, of which Dr MacNeela is a member, will be reporting back to me within the next two weeks and we will then be in a position to devise national standards that all of our higher education institutions will have to implement,” she added.
Key aims of consent programme
The programme targets three key settings for young people: universities, the senior cycle at school, and sports organisations.
It will support young people in developing positive attitudes towards consent through workshops, drama, training, videos, and online resources.
Dr Pádraig MacNeela said, “We want to promote a positive, proactive approach to sexual consent, and this funding gives us a unique opportunity to do this over the next four years.
“We are combining Irish research data with proven youth engagement methods and the creative arts to support a full range of sexual consent messaging.”
Dr Siobhán O’Higgins emphasised how crucial it was for the success of this programme that thy successfully work with other groups to address the specific needs of that setting.
The programme is funded by the Lifes2good Foundation in partnership with Galway University Foundation and NUI Galway.
Maria Murphy, Co-founder of Lifes2good Foundation, said she hoped this would be the start of a national programme that will benefit young people for many years to come.
“The main focus of Lifes2good Foundation is on vulnerable women and children. But we are interested in preventative strategies as well as remedial, and this programme focuses on attitudes and beliefs as a foundation for positive behaviour.”