Northern Ireland news

Sixty-three per cent of university students in north have had unwanted sexual experience

(L-R) Megan Reynolds, QUB PhD researcher, Emma Stewart, artist and UU graduate, and Siobhan O'Neill, NI’s Mental Health Champion pictured with lead researcher Dr Susan Lagdon (UU) and UU researcher Ngozi Anyadike-Danes
Marie Louise McConville and John Breslin

ALMOST two in every three university students have had an unwanted sexual experience, a new study has found.

Research by Ulster University and Queen's University Belfast, was presented yesterday at the Seen and Heard Conference at The MAC in Belfast.

Justice Minister Naomi Long said she is "deeply troubled" by the findings.

The Unseen at Uni report found that only half of those affected told someone about their experience.

The research, which was led by Dr Susan Lagdon from UU and Prof Cherie Armour, from Queen's, surveyed students from both universities.

An unwanted sexual experience is defined as: “sexual harassment and misconduct, including verbal and non-verbal sexual behaviours, rape, attempted rape, or any other undesired sexual experiences. All behaviour is characterised by a lack of consent on the part of the person experiencing it."

More than two thirds of respondents knew the perpetrator and had some sort of pre-established relationship.

Researchers sought to understand the impact of unwanted sexual experiences on students’ wellbeing, with findings suggesting those who experienced unwanted sexual behaviour towards them were more likely to suffer with mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression than those reporting no experiences.

Dr Lagdon said: "In recent years the pervasiveness of unwanted sexual experiences among university students in the US, UK and Republic has been well-documented but this is the first time we have region-specific data to benchmark for university students in Northern Ireland.

"We're recommending a universal and agreed approach to tackling sexual violence, harassment, and misconduct through a zero-tolerance approach to prevention efforts and partnership with our students," she said.

"Our research findings highlight the need for clear systems for disclosure within higher education which also delivers accessible responses and support which is bolstered through local partnerships, as well as the sharing of practices across universities for the benefit of the student body".


Prof Armour added: "I am delighted that this research has further opened up the conversation in Northern Ireland and beyond, including within the education sector.

"Together, we can ensure that we are supporting everyone who is affected by Unwanted Sexual Experiences and that we know how to best support them in their times of need."

Naomi Long, Justice Minister, said she was "deeply troubled".

"I want victims to feel more empowered and confident to report these despicable crimes to the police and to remain fully engaged in the process of seeking justice," she said.

Northern Ireland news