Kristen Jozkowski, Assistant Professor, University of Arkansas, Elaine Byrnes, NUI Galway, Dr Pádraig MacNeela, Professor Terry Humphreys, Trent University, Ontario at the launch of the SMART Consent reports. Photo: NUI Galway
Jul 06 2017 Posted: 14:00 IST

NUI Galway SMART Consent researchers to disseminate findings from research studies carried out this year on sexual consent among 2,000 third level students 

A research seminar took place in NUI Galway on Wednesday (5 July) that reports on research carried out during 2016-2017 by the University’s SMART Consent research team on sexual consent among third level students. Today (6 July) the team launched a major research report at Trinity College Dublin hosted by the RESPECT all-island research network. 

The NUI Galway seminar, ‘SMART Consent – Our Experience of Implementing Sexual Consent Workshops in Third Level Institutions and Recommendations for Future Action’, has been organised by the School of Psychology at NUI Galway and is supported by the University’s Student Project Fund.

The surveys carried out as part of this research programme provide important insights on the following consent-related issues:

  • 96% of 446 students surveyed agreed that sex education should take place in schools, but 76% say that their sexual health education at school was inadequate.
  • 86% of 320 college students surveyed agreed that alcohol impacts on the ability to give consent, yet 37% agreed that a woman can still give consent after drinking heavily.
  • 89% of 632 college students surveyed agreed it is important to obtain sexual consent in all relationships regardless of whether they have had sex before, but only 53% agreed that ‘most other students’ believed this to be the case.
  • 31% of 240 single college students surveyed would have difficulty saying to a partner that a certain sexual activity makes them feel uncomfortable, 32% of single students would have difficulty telling a partner that they like a specific sexual activity.
  • The report found that students had significantly more positive attitudes and behavioural intentions after participating in the workshops, students acknowledged that sexual consent is an important issue (agreement went from 54% pre-workshop to 80% post-workshop held during first year orientation).
  • Students also felt well informed about sexual consent (agreement went from 69% pre-workshop to 98% post-workshop during first year orientation).

The NUI Galway SMART Consent research team, led by Dr Pádraig MacNeela, a lecturer at the School of Psychology, will present the following findings from the report:

A randomised control trial of the effectiveness of the SMART Consent workshop; A study of implementing the workshop in third level institutions; Survey data on consent-related attitudes and behaviours; and in addition, Elaine Byrnes, a PhD student at NUI Galway, will present findings from a qualitative study of students’ experiences of sexual consent.

Speaking about the launch of the report, Dr Pádraig MacNeela at NUI Galway, said: “Since the publication of our first report on sexual consent research in 2014, we have developed the SMART Consent workshop, evaluated its effectiveness and assessed the feasibility of including it as part of the student experience. Over 2,000 third level students have taken part in surveys and workshops in the past year, placing our model at the forefront of positive sexual health promotion efforts in the sector. We found that students had significantly more positive attitudes and behavioural intentions after participating in the workshops.”

One of the co-authors of the report, Dr Siobhán O’Higgins, said: “Students rated the workshop as a useful and enjoyable learning experience.” Dr O’Higgins stressed the importance of providing for this kind of experience: “There are few open and honest opportunities for students to discuss how sexuality can be explored safely, for all the right reasons and in ways that are mutually satisfying. Creating an environment to discuss issues around sexuality and relationships before they choose to become, or not become, intimate with another person, is one of the duties of care for our young people.”

The researchers will describe recommendations on establishing a network of institutions to support the rollout of consent workshops, the implementation of a peer facilitator training initiative, the need for a shared methodology for data collection on sexual health among third level students, and the use of partnership approaches to promote a sustainable approach to positive sexual health.

Two international experts in the area of sexual consent, Kristen Jozkowski (Assistant Professor of Public Health, director of the Sexuality Research Lab at the University of Arkansas, Fellow at the Kinsey Institute), and Terry Humphreys (Professor, Department of Psychology at Trent University, Ontario, and President of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality), will address the event in Galway and the report launch in Dublin.

During 2016-2017 the researchers were supported by grants from: the Irish Research Council / HSE Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme (to examine the effectiveness of the two-hour SMART Consent workshop in changing attitudes); the NUI Galway Student Project Fund (to implement consent workshops and survey students from 2016-2019); and the Confederation of Student Services in Ireland (to work with TCD Students Union on piloting a ‘train the trainer’ programme for first year student orientation, and to conduct a service learning project in 2017 with psychology students at NUI Galway on peer facilitator training).

This work is a further illustration of the commitment NUI Galway has to support sexual health. In May 2017, the University’s Drama, Theatre and Performance students premiered the short film Lucy’s House Party, directed by Dr Charlotte McIvor. The film is part of an EU-funded sexual violence prevention initiative, The Manuela Programme (in memory of the 17-year old Swiss student who was raped and murdered in Galway in October 2007). Aimed at transition-year students, Lucy’s House Party has been piloted in schools in Kerry, Wexford and Galway and will be rolled out to over 120 secondary schools across Ireland.

To read the full report on SMART Consent, visit: http://www.nuigalway.ie/smartconsent/.

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