The majority of Irish college students believe that someone who has consumed as much as a bottle of vodka, 14 pints of beer or three bottles of wine still has the capacity to give consent to sex.
Student views on the impact alcohol has on an individual’s capacity to grant consent is one of the focuses of a new report, which says there is an urgent need to raise awareness on this topic.
Students were asked about sexual harassment, perceptions of sex education at school and the connection between heavy drinking and the capacity to give consent.
The NUI Galway study led by Dr Pádraig McNeela, titled ‘Are Consent Workshops Sustainable and Feasible in Third Level Institutions?’, includes surveys with more than 3,500 students at sexual consent workshops, devised by NUI Galway and held at four colleges nationally.
It explored students’ experience of sexual harassment at college, sex education at school and perceptions around heavy drinking and the capacity to give consent. It found that more than two in three (70pc) female students experience sexual harassment over the course of their college years. It is also a problem for males, though to a lesser degree (40pc).
Some 71pc of female and 63pc of male students were dissatisfied with the sex education they received at school, with lesbians, gays and bisexuals most likely to be lacking the knowledge they wanted.
A cohort of the students read one of two versions of a story about sexual consent, where the two characters, one male and one female, were drinking heavily.
In one version, they consumed 14 standard drink measures – about half a bottle of spirits, seven pints of beer or a bottle and a half of wine – over the course of an evening and, in the other, they drank twice that amount over nine to 10 hours.
In the version where 14 standard drinks were consumed, only 20pc of students regarded the girl as too drunk to give consent and 14pc saw the male as too drunk to give consent.
Even when 28 standard drinks were consumed, 67pc did not agree the female was too drunk to give consent and 70pc did not agree the male was unable to give consent.
However, a majority of the students felt the two characters would regret their actions the following day.
According to the report, “the lack of apparent force or coercion in the scenario seems to have put it into a category of consensual drunk sex, yet the recognition that regret could occur the next day does suggest the potential to raise awareness that capacity to give consent is severely impacted by alcohol consumption”.
Higher Education Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor said providing excellence in education depended also on providing a safe learning environment, free from sexual harassment, assault and the fear or threat of it.