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Quarter of students suffer unwanted sexual advances in Northern Ireland


Green Party NI leader Clare Bailey

Green Party NI leader Clare Bailey

Green Party NI leader Clare Bailey

More than a quarter of students at universities or colleges in Northern Ireland have experienced unwanted sexual behaviour, a survey has revealed.

Over 2,200 students took part in the survey on consent and unwanted sexual behaviour, conducted by the National Union of Students-Union of Students in Ireland (NUS-USI).

The study is the first of its kind to include students as young as 16 and all 11 further education institutions here.

It found that 28% of respondents had experienced unwanted sexual behaviour during their studies.

Just over three-quarters (76%) did not believe it was serious enough to report and 41% believed it wasn't a crime.

A quarter of those surveyed had experienced unwanted touching or body exposure.

Over 100 students (5%) said they had been raped, while double that number had experienced a fellow student confide in them about being raped.

NUS-USI is calling for additional resources to be made available to increase awareness around the issue of consent on local campuses.

Its president, Olivia Potter-Hughes, described the findings as "absolutely appalling" and "deeply troubling".

"Only 5% of students who had experienced unwanted sexual behaviour, who had told someone about their experiences, had formally reported it," she said.

Describing the statistics as "staggering", the student body leader warned that victims do not always believe what they have experienced constitutes a criminal offence or sexual harassment.

She pointed to results that showed only 45% of students in this position believed they had been subjected to sexual harassment when the incident involved photographs or videos.

Ms Potter-Hughes added: "Among those who had not experienced unwanted touching of a sexual nature, the majority (87%) considered this type of behaviour to be sexual assault.

"However, under half (45%) of those who had experienced unwanted touching of a sexual nature thought they had been sexually assaulted."

Ms Potter-Hughes said these "troubling disparities" highlight the need for better support to victims as well as improved training for education staff.

"We believe that this report and the shocking findings contained within it provide a clear evidence base for the need for government to act immediately to tackle unwanted sexual behaviour," she said.

She said NUS-USI wants educational institutions to work together with the government to review their relationship and sex education (RSE) programmes so they are "inclusive and comprehensive".

"Sixty-two percent of survey respondents want to see better RSE to help create a safer environment," she said.

"We want existing support services to be better promoted by government and education institutions, and 54% of survey respondents wished to see improved awareness of support services available."

Ms Potter-Hughes also said the current legal definition of rape under the NI Sexual Offences Order 2008 is not wide ranging enough.

"Not only does this facilitate rapists being tried for lesser sentences, retraumatising victims/survivors in the process, it is also not inclusive of gender or sexual orientation," she claimed.

"These statistics are not just numbers. They are people's lives, their experiences and they must not be ignored."

Green Party NI leader Clare Bailey said the statistics came as no surprise.

"One in four people across the UK will experience sexual abuse in their lifetime. There is correlation between that fact and the findings of this report," she said.

Belfast Telegraph