Belfast Telegraph

Almost 170 students were victims of serious sex assaults at Queen’s

By Allan Preston

More than 160 current students at Queen's University in Belfast have said they have experienced serious sexual assaults, a new survey has reported.

The 'Stand Together Survey' also found that in the majority of cases, the victim knew the perpetrator and believed that their attacker was drunk or high on drugs.

The survey also found that nearly half of the victims never mentioned the attack to anyone.

More than 3,000 QUB students - 12.5% of the total - answered questions on their non-consensual sexual experiences. A total of 5.5% - around 165 - said they had experienced a non-consensual penetrative assault while studying at the south Belfast institution.

The survey includes what is legally defined as rape, but includes serious sexual assaults that go beyond this definition.

But only 6.4% - approximately 10 - of those 165 Queen's students considered themselves to have been sexually assaulted.

Of the Queen's students who had suffered a serious sexual assault, 74% (around 120) said they knew the perpetrator and 70.4% (around 116) indicated the perpetrator was under the influence of alcohol.

Almost half (43.8%) of those who experienced a serious sexual assault or an attempt at one told no-one about the experience.

This caused a negative impact on the mental health of 60.9% (around 100) of those victims, with half (49.1%) missing class as a result.

The survey was carried out by Student Consent Research Collaboration (SCORE), a group of six Queen's students focused on changing attitudes towards sexual consent.

Groups most likely to be at risk were identified, with the survey also considering the role of drugs and alcohol, the effect on wellbeing and levels of reporting to official bodies.

Eimear Haughey, founder of SCORE, said the survey showed a lack of clear understanding around sexual consent and called for students to receive "robust fact-based education" on the issue.

"The lack of clear understanding surrounding sexual consent is emphasised by only 6.4% considering themselves to have been sexually assaulted," she said.

"Young people deserve a level of education about consent which would allow them to know what sexual assault is and if it has happened to them."

Ms Haughey said she hoped education would be the first step towards lowering the rate of sexual crimes, improving support for victims and increasing understanding of sexual consent.

John Devaney, Senior Lecturer at Queen's School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work welcomed the survey.

"Sexual violence is a significant societal issue, and it is very encouraging to see students and staff from Queen's University Belfast seeking to better understand the risks that some students experience while in higher education," he said.

"Throughout the study, the SCORE team have been committed to using the knowledge gained through the research to inform best practice - and it is positive to see the university engage with the important findings and the implications for both the institution and wider society."

For the second year running, first year students at Queen's will be offered peer-led consent workshops backed by the university.

Other UK higher education institutions including Oxford, Cambridge, Warwick and York have run similar classes in recent years.

In some cases, the classes have sharply divided opinion with a number of students calling them patronising and unneccessary.

Jessica Elder, student welfast officer of Queen's Students' Union, said, however, that the classes were vital and among a number of initiatives planned to raise awareness on campus for students.

"This survey will be of tremendous value for future research and I applaud the SCORE Committee for their commitment and dedication," she said. "The research re-iterates the message we hear time and time again, that institutions have a role to play in educating and protecting their students."

A spokesman for Queen's said the university "is committed to supporting the health and wellbeing of its students and staff".

"The Universities UK (UUK) 'Changing the Culture' Report, published in October 2016 , focused on violence against women, harassment and hate crime, and revealed that these issues are relevant to wider society," they said.

"Since the publication of the national UUK Report, Queen's has been working pro-actively with the Students' Union and external partners to take forward a range of actions, including awareness-raising campaigns and education programmes around consent, development of a Sexual Misconduct Policy and the recruitment of a new member of staff who will specialise in supporting safe and healthy relationships."

Nexus NI - which offers counselling and support to victims of sexual abuse, and those who have experienced rape and sexual assault - commended the students who worked on the report.

"Whilst the findings may be distressing or surprising for people to read our focus goes beyond the stats, every percentage is a person, a life that has been impacted by some form of sexual violence and potentially someone who needs our help," a spokesman said.

"We hope that those victims who did share their experiences via the survey (and indeed anyone affected by sexual violence) know that these inci dents were not their fault and there are organisations such as Nexus who are here to help them."

Nexus has 30 years' experience in providing a professional counselling service to help people to survive sexual violence, rape and abuse. They can be contacted in Belfast at (028) 9032 6803; in Londonderry on 7126 0566 or in Enniskillen on 6632 0046. Nexus' email is info@nexusni.org

by allan preston

Belfast Telegraph

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