Student Issues

The Main Challenges Facing Consent Workshops in Ireland

Consent workshops in Ireland have been introduced across Irish university campuses within the last couple of years, yet there are still mixed opinions in relation to how they are run. In general, the aim behind these workshops is to discuss and educate individuals about how we feel, say and show our agreement to take part in intimacy.

Some of the key questions about these workshops include whether they should be compulsory or not, when they should be introduced, who should facilitate them and the slow rate of uptake amongst males.

In 2016, a Eurobarometer poll showed that 21% of Irish people believed that having sex without consent was acceptable in particular scenarios which included being intoxicated, going home with someone or wearing “provocative” clothing.

With this in mind, a survey of 632 students by the NUI Galway SMART Consent research team earlier this year showed that 51% of first-year women students reported experiencing sexual hostility of some nature. This figure rose up to 70% of women in third-year. This stark number is one we cannot ignore.

Within the past month, Dublin City University (DCU) facilitated SMART Consent workshops to 563 students. The SMART Consent course is designed by Dr. Pádraig McNeela and his team in NUI Galway. The number of attendees has doubled in comparison to the same period this time last year.

Thomas Dorian, Clubs Officer within DCU’s Student Union and facilitator of the workshops believes that keeping it student-led is key:

“Students have loved the workshops because they’re so interactive and they get the message across the grey area what is consent what isn’t consent I think it’s successful because it’s student lead and it gives the students the opportunity to discuss what they think is consent and what others perceive it to be.”

He added that introducing the conversation at third-level is “too late” and instead, should be initially brought up at second-level. “I think it’s something that should be brought into secondary school because we know ourselves that people have sex before they come to college, not everybody, but some do. I think it should actually be introduced in six class in some cases and then carried on and developed through second-level because it is too late dealing with it in third level. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it here also,” Dorian added.

I conducted an online survey which gathered 63 responses. The group of respondents was predominately between the ages of 17 and 24 and currently in third-level education. Almost 23% said that they had not heard about consent workshops, 70% had not attended one before but three people said that they plan to attend one in the future.

What was most interesting about the survey was the range of answers that asked individuals on their opinions of workshops and how they are run of those who have attended, the entirety of which cannot be featured in this article.

“I felt it was beneficial, however the people who sign up do so because they already have an idea of it. The ones who need the consent lesson don’t sign up as they don’t realise they have an issue,” one respondent answered.

The main challenges facing the success of consent workshops, according to the survey, comprised of:

  1. Encouraging students to attend
  2. Lack of male attendees
  3. Mainly based on heterosexual situations

More than half of participants, 59% of people felt that consent workshops should be compulsory for students. Furthermore, 74% said they should be introduced at second-level.

Beth Wallace is a psychotherapist, helping adults to create healthy relationships both personally with themselves and others. She disagrees with the concept that consent workshops should be compulsory to attend.

“The irony is staggering that one should be compelled to attend something about consent, to have one’s ability to consent removed in order to learn about consent! I appreciate that there is deep desire, and for good reason, for consent to feature in our experience of life, particularly sexually, but those of us who teach it need to model it in every way we communicate it.” she said.

In some respects, consent workshops are very much in their infancy. However, the conversation should be introduced far earlier for students, incorporated into Sex-Ed with a continuation of that conversation at third-level. While the majority of people agree workshops should be compulsory, a large portion of individuals strongly disagree and this resistance is something facilitators need to explore.