A new study launched by NUI Galway this week further cemented the fact that we are some ways away from solving the plague of sexual harassment that continues to blight our campuses. The results – 70 per cent of women reported that they had experienced sexual hostility – offered yet another stark reminder that there is much left to be done.
Though there has been a lot of emphasis put on prevention of late, little heed is paid to what happens in Ireland when these incidents do occur. In a debate that has been ongoing for years, US universities have struggled to find a middle ground in which both the perpetrator and victim feel like they have received a fair hearing.
In Trinity, students may be aware that the Junior Dean, Tim Trimble, is the first recourse. Beyond that, the process becomes more opaque. One thing that’s clear is that the role of Junior Dean gives Trimble the full authority to handle complaints unless the student is brave enough to take it further. (A panel of enquiry, consisting of staff and students, can be called to hear a case – something that seems to happen rarely.)
It is only through a thorough reading of the Junior Dean’s website and the College’s Dignity and Respect Policy that any of this becomes clear. While the system, upon close inspection, seems reasonable, the lack of transparency around the process means that the College becomes ensnared in rumours about how investigations play out.
Of course, the nature of sexual harassment means that most complaints must remain confidential – but it does not necessarily follow that we should be left entirely in the dark. For instance, it would be useful to know how many of the 25 per cent of female students in Trinity who have experienced sexual assault have turned to the Junior Dean.
Lamentations over the dire situation for women on campuses and support for preventative consent classes abound – but so too should conversations about how universities handle sexual assault.