Belfast Telegraph

Student sex assaults survey a wake-up call

Editor's Viewpoint

A survey of 3,000 students at Queen's University showing that some 165 of them had been subjected to a serious sexual assault will shock parents and university staff.

This headline figure - from a survey of only one eighth of the student body - is worrying enough, but some of the other replies from those who were victims shows further cause for concern.

Most of them - 120 - knew the perpetrators, the vast majority of whom they believed to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, yet some 43% of cases were never reported to any authority.

Incredibly, only 10 of the victims felt they had been seriously sexually assaulted, showing a clear ignorance of what consent means in the context of sexual relationships.

The survey raises many uncomfortable questions.

While allegations of serious sexual assaults will make the headlines - victims should be encouraged to pursue those allegations by reporting them to police - it is obvious that there is a problem of drug and alcohol abuse among the student body.

That is probably to be expected given that many young people at university will be away from home for the first time. But the dangers of abuse - and the problems which can flow from it - must be stressed to students, especially young men.

There also needs to be better education for young women on what consent in a sexual relationship really means.

These young people are among the cleverest in our society yet their ignorance on this issue is startling.

Victims of sexual assault also need to be given the optimum level of support from university authorities and it is encouraging that Queen's University is taking steps to educate and support students.

The students who conducted the survey deserve congratulations for providing this disturbing report and highlighting the problems raised by it.

University is supposed to be one of the highlights of any young person's life, but for some their days there have been tarnished by their experience of assault which subsequently impacted on their mental health.

Tomorrow, when A-level results are revealed, many young people will discover that they are set to go to university.

But the joy of their parents at their achievement may be tempered somewhat when they read this report and digest its unpalatable findings.

Belfast Telegraph

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