A play by Active Consent titled The kinds of sex you might have at college is currently being performed on campuses across the country.
It brings the audience through various sketches that dramatise sexual scenarios and viewpoints that students may encounter during college life.
A fascinating yet disturbing discussion unfolded when I told a group of undergraduate nursing students about the play during a recent lecture.
One of the students highlighted how people often invade each other’s personal space in public places, especially nightclubs. She explained that it is not unusual for someone, usually male, to grope or touch females in inappropriate and unacceptable ways when socialising.
When I asked her to elaborate, she seemed surprised I had found this remarkable and replied: “Sure, that’s just part and parcel of a night out.”
When I opened the conversation to the broader group, they all concurred, saying incidents like this happen on most nights.
They explained that men who do this are usually not known to them and range in age from young to older adult males. They described having to endure being touched inappropriately, grabbed, and lifted up.
When I said that such contact violated their bodily autonomy, most of the class shrugged their shoulders.
I later asked whether they had ever reported any of these incidents to the staff in the nightclub or the gardaí, and they laughed.
One commented: “If you were to complain every time something like that happened, you wouldn’t have time to have a drink.”
Another student added: “The bouncers are sometimes the worst offenders.”
One of the students said she reported an incident to the gardaí some years back.
She recalled being questioned more about her behaviour than about the actions of the perpetrator, which made her feel even worse and deterred her from reporting a similar event since.
Another described being a victim of being spiked by a needle, which she didn’t feel able to report.
Others said they would not inform anyone at the time because they did not want to cause a scene or be perceived as overreacting or dramatic.
Father to a daughter
It’s a long time since I was in a nightclub, but I don’t remember seeing such harassment, certainly not with the regularity the students experience. Also, I don’t recall my female friends having to endure such experiences.
I have since raised this topic with some of my female colleagues, who said “this is not new” and “has always gone on”, but perhaps it is worse now or we are simply more aware of it happening now.
I have had a series of further conversations and almost every young woman I have spoken to has confirmed that uninvited sexual contact is an issue, with most commenting it’s getting worse.
Nearly all of them could describe incidents where they had been groped, manhandled, and leered at.
They said this could happen to girls as young as 13 years of age at teenage discos, so from very early on in their social lives, this becomes “par for the course” on a night out.
The level of resignation among young women and girls regarding casual sexual harassment is concerning.
I have heard comments like: “My experience wasn’t too bad, he only grabbed my ass”, or, “If I went on a night out and if this didn’t happen, I would be more surprised.”
It is unfathomable that anyone would believe it is OK to touch another person without permission.
As a father of two young boys, I would be horrified if they engaged in such behaviour in the future or were silent bystanders if this occurred in their company.
I am also a father of a young daughter, and it upsets me to think she would ever have to endure this personal violation.
While this is not the behaviour of all boys and young men, what concerns me is that these behaviours are not limited to a small minority.
What message are they receiving about sexual and social development?
Teaching about b