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Female Students Feel Unsafe! 

By Ciara Browne – Deputy News Editor

This article contains mentions of sexual violence and assault. If you feel you may be triggered, please skip this article.

A number of studies have been conducted in Ireland over the past four years which explore the safety a young woman feels while out in public and on public transport. With the ongoing housing crisis in Cork City, many UCC students are commuting to and from college each day. According to the ‘Safe in Ireland’ study conducted by Children’s Rights Charity, and Plan International Ireland, nine out of ten women have said they feel unsafe in Ireland because of their gender. Another key finding from this report was that more than one third of women have experienced sexual harassment in public and six in ten women do not feel safe taking the bus. 

Paul O’Brien, CEO of Plan International Ireland said whilst speaking about the report “It’s a stark reality for women in our country, especially young women, that harassment and fear are part of daily life. It’s clear that our young women are faced with significant barriers as they strive to achieve their full potential, barriers which men don’t seem to have to factor-in to everyday life.”

After speaking to five female UCC students who are commuting to college on public transport, three out of five said that they feel unsafe whilst taking the bus. Following the recent court case in which a Cork man aged 64, was jailed for sexually assaulting a 17 year old teenage girl at Cork City Bus Station, the fear female students experience has been heightened. The accused man, Andrew O’Donovan of Butlersgift, Drimoleague, Co. Cork, pleaded guilty to a charge of sexual assault on the 17 year old victim on August 20th, 2020, and has been jailed for 27 months. The 64 year old widower previously avoided a custodial sentence after sexually assaulting a teenage patient in CUH. A female UCC student who wishes to remain anonymous said that she now “fears waiting at the bus station having heard of the assault”.  Another UCC student who wishes to remain anonymous, considers herself to be an “independent and educated woman, yet still finds herself praying a man will not sit beside (her) on the bus”. This student went on to explain how the evening trip is “more difficult than the morning” as Cork is very much a busy city, buses can be “packed” and the chances of not only a man, but a man who is drunk sitting beside you is “higher, and when under the influence of alcohol they tend to be more verbal towards you”. 

In September 2019, the Cork Sexual Violence Centre announced that college students report in high numbers. The centre’s founder, Mary Crilly, warned students, particularly females, that they are extremely vulnerable during Freshers’ Week. The annual report for the centre that year revealed that more than 60% of their new clients were under the age of 29. To follow that, 75% of their clients were 23 or younger at the time of the assault. Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, a sexual assault support organisation, has warned students that sexual assault has become a feature of college Freshers’ Week in particular. Mary Crilly spoke to the Irish Times back in August 2020, and stated that “universities need to come out with their policies and act on it. The guys need to be called out and told this is not on”.

A study conducted by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) found that one third of female students have been raped, while two thirds have experienced and been victims of sexual assault. UCC’s Bystander Intervention programme was introduced in 2019 and has had positive feedback and developments logged since beginning. The programme is led by Professor Louise Crowley of the UCC School of Law, and provides training and other resources on how to safely ‘step in, speak up, and support others in situations of sexual misconduct and sexual violence.’ The programme is available to all UCC staff and students, and the training includes ‘definitions, scenarios, role-plays, questions, action steps, and resources’ to provide us with the understanding and expertise to safely be an active bystander. For more information, please email bystander@ucc.ie.

 If you have been affected by the contents of this article, please contact UCC Counselling, counselling@ucc.ie / 021 490 3565, UCC Niteline, 1800 32 32 42, or freephone the Cork Sexual Violence Centre at 1800 496 496