Even though campaigns, collaborations and campus activity bear virtually no resemblance this academic year to previous years’, this does not mean they are not occurring, or are anyway weakened by the shift to an online platform. In accordance with the Government’s public health advice, all activity pertaining to third level institutions are occurring in a virtual manner. UCC Students’ Union (UCCSU) Welfare Officer, Jamie Fraser, launched a new campaign in collaboration with UCC Feminist Society and UCC Fashion Society; that kicked off the beginning of Consent Awareness Week.
The campaign, which made national headlines in the Irish Examiner, was launched alongside this powerful photograph including five UCC students in clothes for college, school, work, the gym and a nightclub, standing in front of the Quad. The campaign, focusing on ‘debunking myths surrounding sexual assault’ seeks to put an end to victim blaming, highlighting the need to place the blame on the perpetrator of sexual assault. The aim of the “Not Asking for it” project is to demonstrate that clothes do not imply, determine or provide consent.
This initiative was just one element of the Consent Awareness Week organised by UCCSU. Throughout the week, there was an array of events organised in conjunction with on-campus societies, UCC staff, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and Sexual Assault Treatment Units (SATU). One such programme, developed by UCC Law lecturer, Dr. Louise Crowley, is the Bystander Intervention Training. There were two online trainings for the Bystander Intervention programme throughout the week, as well as an interview with Dr. Louise Crowley who leads the Bystander Intervention programme at UCC. The work-shop based approach of this training seeks to not only enhance knowledge and understanding, but also lead to attitude and behavioural change across the University. Upon completion of the Bystander Intervention training, students receive a Digital Badge accreditation.
Mr. Fraser, speaking in a powerful video posted on UCCSU’s social media platforms, explains why he took the lead to organise UCC’s first Consent Awareness Week. He said that the number of survivors who contacted rape crisis services for counselling rose by 98% from the period of March until the end of June, when compared to the same period last year. Mr. Fraser described this as a ‘sexual assault epidemic’ in Cork. Mary Crilly, the head of Cork’s Sexual Violence Centre said that college students in Cork are suffering at the hands of abusers despite the stringent Covid-19 restrictions being in place. Ms. Crilly went on to explain that the ‘biggest myth that ever was’ is the detrimental misconceptions that many sexual assault victims come up against that ‘women make these accusations after leaving pubs while intoxicated.’
An in-depth study by the USI and NUI Galway, conducted earlier this year found that 29% of female, 10% of male, and 28% of non-binary students have experienced non-consensual penetration by incapacitation, force, or threat of force during their time in college, according to the USI and NUIG Sexual Experiences Survey 2020. Of those, 49% of males, 35% of females, and 25% of non-binary students never shared their story.
Following on from the rise in sexual assault cases over the past few months and the results from the Sexual Experiences Survey, Mr. Fraser outlined the work UCCSU have been carrying out. “From a union standpoint, we’ve been engaging with the national advisory committees, attending meetings on a national level, working to see the formation of a sexual misconduct policy and working with societies and various other organisations to launch awareness campaigns such as Consent Week to see cultural and political change.”
There was also a strong student contribution to Consent Week. UCC Feminist Society held Active*Consent Training, as well as a Chalk exhibition for survivors of sexual abuse. Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Chloe Boland, Vice Chair of the Feminist Society said “Clothes are not a justification for sexual assault, for far too long it’s been said that a person’s clothes meant they were ‘asking for it.’ This idea is harmful and untrue.” Maeve O’Sullivan, Chairperson of UCC Fashion Society said “For too long clothing has been used as an excuse for sexual violence. We say no more. What an individual chooses to put on in the morning, is not an invitation of any kind.”
If you are affected by the issues raised in this article, please reach out for help. UCCSU Welfare Officer, Jamie Fraser, can be contacted on email@example.com or on (086) 184 2897. By texting ‘UCC’ to 50808 you can talk to a trained crisis volunteer. Cork Sexual Violence Centre can be contacted on freephone: 1800 496 496 or by text on (087) 153 3393.