Students often embarrassed to raise issue of sexual consent, study shows

New learning resource for third-level students launched

Young people overwhelmingly believe in the principle of sexual consent, but sometimes feel embarrassed about raising the subject , a new study has found.

A survey of college students has found 37 per cent of female college students and 53 per cent of male college students gave a “neutral” or “agree” response when asked whether asking for consent is awkward.

Similar patterns were found with 63 per cent of female college students and 37 per cent of male college students saying they were “very likely” to say something to intervene if a friend was taking a drunk person back to their room at a party.

The survey is part of research carried out by academics at NUI Galway. Its new online active consent programme for all third-level students will be rolled out to institutions this year.

Students will learn the legal definition of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment, and how to access support services through the programme.

NUI Galway president Prof Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh said education and support around the subject of consent “is a critical learning component that should be made available to everyone during their university journey. Supporting the safety, health and wellbeing of our students and staff is our top priority.”

Active consent programme co-lead Dr Pádraig MacNeela said that the research shows that teenagers in schools and young adults in colleges “strongly support the idea that consent means having the right to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and having their partners hear and respect these preferences”.

However, he added: “But the research also shows that the confidence to act on this understanding can be undermined by embarrassment and shame, including misperceptions of what your peers actually think.

“There is also now evidence to show that a number of young people either agree with or do not actively reject misinformed and potentially harmful rape myths.”