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Letter to Minister Joe McHugh and Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor

Dear Minister Joe McHugh and Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor,

I hope this email finds you well. I am contacting you in relation to the publication of the USI’s Sexual Experiences Survey. Having attended the online launch of the report I was struck by the shockingly high proportion of students who had experienced sexual assault and violence. The findings clearly demonstrate a deeply concerning societal issue, where a huge cohort of students have encountered a traumatic experience relating to sexual assault and rape.

I note Minister Mitchell O’Connor’s’ comments at the launch in relation to work that you and the HEA have spearheaded in order to strengthen the response to this issue across all HEI’s. We welcome commitments to the implementation of the report recommendations.

While we appreciate that government formation talks are ongoing and a new cabinet will be appointed, UCD Students' Union would ask that you would use your positions to advocate that the incoming government pass the Provision of Objective Sex Education Bill as a matter of urgency.

We note the following provision in the programme for government “Develop inclusive and age-appropriate RSE and SPHE curricula across primary and post primary levels, including an inclusive programme on LGBTI+ relationships and making appropriate legislative changes, if necessary.” Access to objective and robust RSE, particularly in relation to consent and establishing respectful boundaries is something that must be prioritised going forward. There is still a huge degree of variance in the nature and quality of sex education that students receive before reaching higher education. Students should not have their first experience of objective information around consent at a university level, but unfortunately this remains the case in many circumstances.

A clear message needs to be sent out to students on a universal basis from an early age, providing a dual function of educating individual students and also opening up a dialogue around consent. Informing young people of their responsibilities towards their peers is essential, and students should know exactly what resources are available to them when they experience or observe unacceptable behaviour. Implementing the Provision of Objective Sex Education bill or similar legislative measures would demonstrate a clear commitment on behalf of the incoming government to tackling rape culture in Irish society.

Le gach dea-ghuí,

Ruairí Power

Welfare Officer

UCD Students’ Union