"Higher education institutes do not uniquely experience sexual violence and harassment, but they are uniquely positioned to do something about it", Orla O'Connor, Director of the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI), told attendees at the It Stops Now Conference.
Taking place on Thursday, 7 March 2019, the conference brought together over 120 representatives from higher education, the student community, support services, statutory bodies and more to explore approaches to combating sexual violence and harassment (SVH) in higher education.
In her welcoming address, Orla O'Connor called on higher education institutes to resource their capacity to combat SVH through establishing consistent tools for collecting data, ensuring accessible reporting mechanisms and supports, offering ongoing training for staff and students, and developing trauma-informed policies and procedures.
Chair of the NWCI, Ellen O'Malley Dunlop, who hosted the morning session of the conference, echoed this sentiment, adding that "sexual violence and harassment is a crucial women’s issue, taking its roots in gender inequality. As we mark International Women’s Day tomorrow, women around the world are speaking up against this, calling on us to prevent and protect against all forms of sexualised violence. We are saying that, not only are we up for the challenge, but we want to be among its leaders".
As we mark #InternationalWomensDay2019 tomorrow, #women around the world are calling out sexual violence & harassment. We want to lead the change. @ellenomdunlop opens our #ItStopsNow conference. pic.twitter.com/tF3hP8XF5p— It Stops Now (@ItStopsNow_EU) March 7, 2019
Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Minister of State for Higher Education in Ireland, gave the opening address on the day, stating that "we certainly need to do something. It is a reality that there is sexual harassment and violence on our campuses and we have the numbers. For example, when I did visit the sexual assault trauma unit here in Dublin, what was reported to me that just under 40 per cent of people presenting at that sexual assault trauma unit were students".
We all have a duty of care to our students, to protect them from sexual harassment, assault and safety from the fear and threat of it. #ItStopsNow #Consent Powerful morning at @NWCI #ESHTE conference in Liberty Hall pic.twitter.com/n3aGAFbBFs— Mary Mitchell O'Connor (@mitchelloconnor) March 7, 2019
The conference also heard from two keynote speakers - Dr Ruth Lewis of Northumbria University and Dr Katrin List of the Technological University of Dortmund - who spoke on the challenges of gender-based violence (GBV) and GBV against students with disabilities respectively.
Dr Katrin List highlighting some shocking statistics about the intersection between those with disabilities and sexual violence @NWCI @ItStopsNow_EU The #ItStopsNow initiative is cognizant of this intersection and is actively working to combat it 💪 pic.twitter.com/7lgv6n8IcC— UCD Students' Union (@UCDSU) March 7, 2019
A series of workshops and panel discussions in the afternoon saw discussion and engagement between representatives from the Union of Students in Ireland, Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Immigrant Council of Ireland, University College Cork, National University of Ireland Galway, Sexual Violence Centre Cork and many more.
In her closing remarks, ESHTE Project Coordinator Tara Brown noted that collaboration - from European partnerships to national advisory committees and emerging cross-sectoral networks - has been a central theme of the ESHTE project and conference, as well as the overwhelming unity from the grassroots community and student body to demand change. If all these voices aren't at the table, a huge piece of the puzzle in tackling SVH and gender equality is missing.
For more information on the conference sessions and speakers, a full copy of the brochure is available here.