Sexual Violence and Harassment Prevention and Response Programme Coordinator, University of Galway
Active* Consent Programme co-lead, Head of School of Psychology,
University of Galway
Recent Irish surveys reveal that many college students report experiencing harassment and sexual assault. Yet, there’s also a prevalent positive attitude toward consent.
How do positive attitudes towards consent exist alongside traumatising sexual harassment experiences? To improve college-based education on consent, The Active* Consent programme is leading the way in Ireland.
Findings on sexual violence and consent in students
- The Active* Consent 2020 national survey of Higher Education students, conducted with the Union of Students in Ireland, indicated that 4 in 10 (42%) female first-year students (and one in five males) experienced unwanted sexual touching within six months of starting college.
- A majority of female college students surveyed agreed they had experienced sexual harassment in the past four years.
- In secondary school pupils, most participants agreed that a smile was enough non-verbal consent for intimacy, such as oral sex.
- Up to one-third of transition-year male pupils surveyed agreed with incorrect rape myth beliefs.
- Despite this, over 80% of young people surveyed say it’s important to talk about consent.
Sustainable consent education and support
for young people requires an equal focus on
institutional ownership and staff capacity.
Changing culture: partnership, youth engagement, staff support
Empowering students nationwide to shape a safer campus, The Active* Champion programme — launched at the University of Galway — provides comprehensive consent training. Rooted in 10 years of research, it promotes a sex-positive perspective and inclusivity. Student Champions, from diverse backgrounds, contribute to a supportive environment where no one is judged for their sex choices.
• Last year, over 22,000 first-year students participated in consent workshops.
• About 90% of workshop participants would recommend it to a friend while 91% learned something useful.
• Workshops led to improvements in self-reported consent management skills, knowledge and confidence that peers consider consent important.
Sustainable consent education and support for young people requires an equal focus on institutional ownership and staff capacity. Over 1,500 staff have trained as consent workshop facilitators since 2016. We partner with Galway Rape Crisis Centre to provide 12-hour First Point of Contact training.
Consent literacy: consent is for everyone
Consent is ongoing, mutual and freely given (OMFG). Consent is for everyone — all relationships, genders and sexual orientations — and each type of intimacy. Young people in Ireland must reach the four signposts for consent literacy:
• Knowledge: accurate information on consent attitudes and behaviours; how alcohol and drugs affect consent; digital intimacy; laws on consent and sexual assault.
• Communication skills: verbal and nonverbal behaviour; what helps or hinders consent; how to talk about consent.
• Confidence: seeking support for themselves or their peers, whether from school, college or a professional service.
• Challenge: being part of the change in our culture that recognises and responds to non-consenting attitudes or actions.
The programme also offers resources for consent awareness, education and training.