Across the UK there has been a disturbing lack of research into sexual violence and consent at universities, a testament to how we are failing to ensure a safe and enjoyable time to students. What little evidence that has been collated is not reassuring.
One of the few that has researched this issue is Cambridge University, who found that 22% of participants (equaling a staggering 2,130 students) said they felt unsafe during the evening and that over 80% across all types of incident made no report to university authorities or the police.
Further research done by the Union of Students in Ireland found that students appear to be unclear as to what the situation is in relation to the support available to students who have been victims of violence, sexual assault or harassment. They are unsure whether or not their universities, colleges or students' unions provide information about victim's support.
The lack of knowledge is even worse in Northern Ireland. The region has only been included in one piece of research and NI students only accounted for 0.2% of the responses and the survey only looked at sexual violence against women. This was carried out between August 2009 and March 2010, and revealed that one in seven survey respondents had experienced a serious physical or sexual assault during their time as a student. 16% have experienced unwanted kissing, touching or molesting during their time as a student, the majority of which has taken place in public. The most common reason for not reporting serious sexual assault was that the victim felt ashamed or embarrassed; 43 per cent also thought they would be blamed for what had happened, and one in three thought they would not be believed.
To redress the serious deficit in knowledge that is most glaring in Northern Ireland, a group of Queen's students have founded the S.C.O.R.E. (Student Consent Research) Collaboration. They have been working closely with the QUB Student's Union to produce the Stand Together Survey. This is the only survey to focus specifically on Northern Irish students.
The S.C.O.R.E collaboration is more than just a research group, their aim is to make Queens University Belfast safer and support survivors of sexual violence and improve understanding of consent. The project is keen to address the lack of data concerning men suffering sexual harassment and abuse as well, with many surveys in the past not reflecting the problems men and also the LGBT+ community face too.
S.C.O.R.E Collaboration is run by a committee of 5 students and 1 SU welfare officer. They have been working alongside internal and external advisory boards and has been 18 months in the making. There is an external advisory board including representatives from Nexus NI, Woman's Aid, The Rainbow Project, The Rowan, Hollaback, The Public Health Agency, FPA, Brook and ONUS, and an internal advisory board made up of QUB staff (Lecturers, student guidance centre). They achieved ethical approval through the Queen's School of Sociology. The diverse range of backgrounds reflected in those involved highlights the fact that this is an academic as well as a welfare issue, with many students leaving or suffering a drop in grades after a non-consensual sexual experience.
The collaboration have launched the Stand Together Survey to measure the level of non-consensual sexual experiences on and off campus on 9th February, 2016. First of its kind in an educational institution in NI. The Stand Together Survey will be anonymous and the information gathered will be used to create change within the university to help support students and make QUB a safer place.
The survey is only open to QUB students, and it is hoped that through raising awareness within QUB about consent and sexual violence it will have a positive effect on those living Queens area and will also encourage other local universities to follow suit.
If you are a QUB student we'd encourage you to fill out the survey, whether you've had an experience like those described above or not: all answers will be private and confidential, and it will be used to ensure that QUB is a safe environment for everyone. If you're not a Queen's student but feel that this is something that your university or place of work should be taking action on, then contact the group on their Facebook or Twitter page: https://www.facebook.com/qubstudentconsentresearch/?ref=br_rs
If you have been affected by any of these issues and would like to talk to someone, please do not hesitate to call:
Nexus NI: 02890326803
Women's Aid: 0808200024724
The Rowan: 08003894424