Active* Consent – It’s in all our Interests

20th June 2023

Posted In: Be In The Frame

Minister for Further & Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris T.D. officially launched University of Galway’s Active* Consent programme 2023-27 recently. Active* Consent is an innovative sexual consent education and research initiative, which began at University of Galway. Now a national programme, it has been at the forefront of promoting healthy relationships and fostering a culture of respect since its inception in 2013.

Active* Consent marked the launch of the 2023-27 programme with the publication of a report reviewing the scale of work undertaken during its first large scale programme 2019-2022 and an outline of goals to expand the work over the next five years.

– More than 70,000 first-year college students took part in consent workshops between 2019-2022, and more than 1,500 staff members and student leaders have been trained in delivering workshops.

– More than 4,000 post-primary pupils took part in consent workshops during the first 12 months of the Active* Consent for School Communities programme in 2021-2022, while 750 teachers have been trained in delivering these workshops and 1,000 parents have attended online seminars.

– The new programme sets goal to take Active* Consent international by engaging with universities, forming partnerships with practitioners and researchers, and adapting programming to meet the needs of students outside of Ireland

– Partnered with Rugby Players Ireland on the delivery of consent programming in the organisation’s Academy Programme since 2019, with ambitions to build on that by offering the Active* Consent model of awareness raising, skills development, and culture change to other sporting bodies.

– Plans to initiate new research that focuses on how ideas and roles concerning consent evolve for teenagers and young men.

Minister Harris expressed Government support for the programme and Active* Consent’s commitment to addressing the issue of sexual consent in Ireland:

“It is essential we equip the next generation with the skillset and the knowledge needed on consent. This programme has already been incredibly successful in schools and further and higher education institutions across the country.

The launch of this Active* Consent Programme is another step towards tackling an extremely serious issue that can have lifelong consequences for the victims. It is one of my top priorities to ensure that we create campus cultures which are safe, respectful, and supportive for all staff and students.”

President of University of Galway, Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, said: “The past decade has brought considerable learning on consent for all of us.

Now there is an active national conversation on consent, which our history teaches us is healthier, preferable to silence.

This is pioneering work, led by University of Galway. It is symbolic not only of the focus we place here on our university being here for the public good, but also symbolic of our core value of respect. All of us at University of Galway look forward to the expansion of the work of Active* Consent and in continuing to make a difference in and for society.”

Dr Siobhán O’Higgins, University of Galway senior researcher and Co-Lead on Active* Consent, said:

“Our programming promotes the ethos that consent is ongoing, mutual, and freely given – that consent is for everyone, in all relationships, across genders and sexual orientations, and for all types of intimacy, if someone ever chooses to engage with a partner.”

Active* Consent is supported through funding and philanthropy by Lifes2good Foundation; Rethink Ireland; University of Galway, Government of Ireland; and the Dormant Accounts Fund. The 2019-2022 programme was led by Dr Pádraig MacNeela, Dr Charlotte McIvor, and Dr Siobhán O’Higgins.

Active* Consent developed a novel initiative to bring the topics of sex and consent to wider youth audiences, with Dr Charlotte McIvor working with more than 40 drama students and graduates since 2014 to write and produce four successive versions of the play ‘The Kinds of Sex You Might Have at College’. It toured 19 Irish college campuses in 2022, reaching 2,300 students and staff.

The play allows audiences to see what positive, active consent and non-consent look like, how they impact individuals and peer groups, and what can be done to respond to scenarios that young people might experience.

•Of the 850 college students who completed the post-show survey, 87% agreed that the play improved their understanding of sexual consent.
•82% agreed that it increased their confidence in negotiating sexual boundaries.
•81% agreed that after the performance they knew where to find information on how to report sexual assault.

A grant from the Community Foundation of Ireland enabled Active* Consent to adapt the drama to post-primary school audiences. ‘How I Learned About Consent’ was performed to 1,300 pupils from 16 schools in 2022.
•Of the 800 school pupils who completed the post-show survey, 83% of pupils agreed that the play represented the range of sexual issues and situations that young people face.
•79% of pupils agreed that they felt more confident responding as an active bystander to help a friend or family member.
•85% of pupils agreed that the play delivered important messages.

Pictured (l-r): Dr Padraig MacNeela, Senior Lecturer at the School of Psychology, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris T.D, and Dr Siobhán O’Higgins, Research Fellow at the School of Psychology. (Image: Jason Clarke).