Recently our newsfeeds have been dominated by the Stanford rape case; Brock Allen Turner, a young white male attending Stanford University, sexually assaulted & attempted to rape an unconscious girl behind a dumpster after a party. Turner’s defence used the girl’s alcohol intake as their reasoning for this heinous crime rather than admitting that Turner refused to acknowledge she could not consent to intercourse. The week previous to this a young girl was brutally gang raped in Madrid while someone recorded the ordeal on their phone; some commentators on Twitter felt she had dressed too provocatively. Since its release, Louise O’Neill’s book ‘Asking For It’, has caused many people to tell their story and share their experiences with assault and rape culture.
This may have been the first time some of you have seen cases like this, but for those of us in front line services this isn’t new information. A conversation has been sparked by these recent incidents and now that a dialogue has began we must ensure that the right measures are taken to protect victims.
I spent three months last summer trying to prepare myself for the day someone would walk into my [Students’ Union Welfare] office and tell me they had been raped or sexually assaulted. I went to specialised training and familiarised myself with all the various protocols. What I did not know was that nothing could prepare me for the incessant shame these victims felt, nothing could prepare me for their willingness to blame themselves and nothing could prepare me for how painfully unaware they were of consent is & what constitutes assault. Five months into the job I was assaulted myself & immediately understood to some degree these feelings.
On Monday 27th June, UCC will launch its five credit academic module on consent and sexual respect. I have spent the last year working with service users in order to assess how we tackle this issue and ensure we are reaching everyone with this information. This module has proved effective in the UK and is needed more than ever in Ireland.
This module has been coordinated in line with Dr Rachel Fenton of the University of West England, a leading academic in the area of Bystander Intervention. Dr. Fenton has developed an educational toolkit to be used by universities and colleges across England for the prevention of sexual coercion and domestic abuse in university settings, which is endorsed by Public Health England. This module will be piloted to all first year Law students and, if successful, rolled out to all first years the following year. This module will be developed and delivered by academics & professional practitioners with stakeholder input if-and-when necessary.
While I do not believe this is the only solution to this growing problem, education for first years about to embark on their third level career is vital.
We shouldn’t be writing articles advising women to drink less or interrogating what someone was wearing when they were attacked.
We should be looking at measures like this module and working towards education and open discussion.
Shame, guilt and silence achieve nothing.
If you have been affected by any of the content of this article there are supports out there:
The Cork Sexual Violence Centre is there to help. They provide confidential support, advice & counselling to anyone who needs it. Their free-phone number is 1800 496 496, and all other information can be found here.
The Samaritans can be found on 116 123. They provide judgement-free, confidential support 24hrs a day.
Katie Quinlan, the author of this article, is the UCC Students’ Union Welfare Officer. They provide a service of support to UCC students. If you have any questions about their job, or require their help, you can call them on 086 383 6794, or email them on Welfare@UCCSU.ie.