Launch of Report on Sexual Consent among Third Level Students

Pictured l-r: Dr Pádraig MacNeela, NUI Galway, Dr Siobhán O’Higgins, NUI Galway, Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Kate Dawson, NUI Galway and Dr Charlotte McIvor, NUI Galway, pictured at the launch of the SMART Consent research report on sexual consent among third level students. Photo: Maxwells
Aug 07 2018 Posted: 09:12 IST

NUI Galway researchers to disseminate findings from SMART Consent workshops held around the country and survey results from over 3,500 students

The Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, TD, will today (7 August 2018) launcha research report on sexual consent among third level students carried out by the NUI Galway SMART Consent research team in collaboration with their partners at four other Universities in Ireland.

The report, ‘Are Consent Workshops Sustainable and Feasible in Third Level Institutions?’, includes surveys with over 3,500 students conducted at NUI Galway; consent workshops held at four colleges nationally with 761 students; and flags a new education and awareness campaign, Consent=OMFG (Ongoing, Mutual, Freely Given), which includes four short interactive films on consent.

The report authors will speak at the research launch after Minister Mitchell O’Connor. Dr Pádraig MacNeela, who leads the SMART Consent initiative, Dr Siobhán O’Higgins, and Kate Dawson, Child and Youth Research PhD candidate, all from the School of Psychology, alongside Dr Charlotte McIvor and students from the O’Donogue Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance who will preview one of the Consent=OMFG consent films.

The report builds on a programme of research since 2013 that has explored the meaning of consent among college students, tested the effectiveness of the SMART Consent workshop, and surveyed students on sexual consent behaviours and attitudes (see

The surveys included in the report shed light on important consent-related issues, including:

  • Sexual harassment: In a survey of 632 students nationally, 54% of First Year women students report experiencing sexual hostility or crude gender harassment at some point since starting college, rising to 64% among Second Year women students, and 70% of women students in Third Year or a subsequent year; the comparable figures for men are; 25%, 37%, and 40%.
  • Perceptions of sex education at school: In a survey of 2,150 students nationally, 71% of women and 63% of men said they were dissatisfied with the sexual health education they received at school (14% of women and 17% of men were neutral on this question; 15% of women and 20% of men were satisfied with their sexual health education at school).
  • More lesbian, gay, and bisexual students felt that their sexual health education at school did not cover the topics they are most interested in (75%), compared with heterosexual students (66%).
  • Perceptions of alcohol and capacity to give consent: In a survey, 753 students nationally read one of two versions of a consent story where both characters were drinking: 20% considered the female character too drunk to give consent in the story where she consumed 14 standard drinks, while 33% considered the female character too drunk in the version where she consumed 28 standard drinks. 14% of the students considered the male character too drunk to give consent after 14 standard drinks, and 30% considered him too drunk after 28 standard drinks.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, TD, commented: “All institutions have a duty of care to their students and I am delighted to see many of them integrate and support these empowerment and preventative initiatives, such as consent workshops. As Minister it falls to me to ensure that providing excellence in education depends also on providing a safe learning environment, free from sexual harassment, assault and the fear or threat of it. Therefore I welcome NUI Galway’s report. It is a timely piece of research given that the National Council on Curriculum and Assessment is carrying out a major review of the relationships and sexuality curriculum.”

Commenting on the findings, Dr Pádraig MacNeela at NUI Galway said: “The survey findings show that the social environment in which consent takes place among college students is often unsupportive – most women experience harassment, a large majority of all students are dissatisfied with their sexual health education at school, and social norms for drinking minimise the true impact of alcohol on the capacity to give consent.”

During 2017-18, the researchers trained over 100 facilitators to lead SMART Consent workshops at NUI Galway, Queens University Belfast, the National College of Art and Design, Dublin City University, the University of Limerick, and Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology. The report compares Pre-Workshop and Post-Workshop attitudes of 761 of the students who took part in a workshop with those trained facilitators during 2017-18:

  • Pre-Workshop, 29% strongly agreed that they felt well informed about sexual consent, compared with 71% of students Post-Workshop.
  • Pre-Workshop, 28% strongly agreed that they have all the skills they need to deal with sexual consent, compared with 60% Post-Workshop.
  • Pre-Workshop, 34% of students strongly agreed that most people felt that asking for consent is important, compared with 46% Post-Workshop.

Dr Siobhán O’Higgins at NUI Galway, said: “The SMART Consent workshop is strongly associated with students feeling knowledgeable and skilled about sexual consent. The discussion and peer engagement strategies we use mean it is a workshop, not a class. We encourage students to find their own positive approach to consent, but also know that a full response to this issue involves action outside workshops too, to change the culture in college and society”.

At the launch, Dr Charlotte McIvor will preview one of the four short interactive consent films she has developed with her theatre students for a new multimedia campaign that will help address this culture change. The film series was collaboratively written and researched by NUI Galway Drama and Theatre Studies students led by Dr McIvor. Each interactive film gives the viewer control over characters’ decisions at key points, leading to three possible endings to each film. The four films (co-directed by McIvor and Mick Ruane) portray sexual encounters from heterosexual and LGBTQ perspectives, as well as long-term and casual sexual relationships. 

Dr Charlotte McIvor offers: “We wanted to use film to capture the complexity of how consent is negotiated between partners and portray just how many decision points there actually are within any given sexual encounter.”  

The first film, ‘Tom and Julie’ can be viewed at: The other three films will be made available on the NUI Galway website and YouTube by staggered release in autumn 2018 as part of the Consent=OMFG campaign. 

To read the full report on SMART Consent, visit:

The research in the report has been supported by the NUI Galway Student Project Fund, and the PhD in Child and Youth Research.


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