USI’s 2018 Congress saw hundreds of policy motions voted on last week- on everything from mental health to union policies to repealing the 8th amendment. The most notable debates over the four days included equality for transgender and non-binary students, the Palestinian conflict and the upcoming referendum on the 8th amendment. Lines of students gathered at opposite sides of the podium to voice their opinions on the various motions of the week and fiery debates often ensued.
However when the topic of abusive relationships and sexual violence came up no one stood on the opposing side of the room. Instead what seemed like an endless line of students quickly formed at the left side of the room to urge the passing of the motion to support anyone who had experienced sexual violence.
The delegates were a mix of female, male and non-binary students. They all attended different universities and grew up in different places. They were of differing ethnic backgrounds and religions. Some wore pink, some wore black, some had brightly colored hair and others wore tracksuits and runners.
They all had one thing in common: they had been directly affected by the matters in the motion proposed and felt it was time to have their voices heard.
Hearts broke around the room as delegates relayed their very personal stories, the first time many of the speakers told their stories at all and their wishes of remaining anonymous have been respected.
Some delegates spent years in abusive relationships not knowing how to get out. Others spoke of horrific acts of violence that they had to devastatingly experience, such as being raped in a nightclub bathroom or being sexually abused by someone they trusted. One male student from a rural background spoke about his own suffering from domestic violence.
A delegate from DIT announced some shocking statistics to the room, such as how 30% of people in Ireland were affected by sexual violence and harassment and how only 8% of cases are reported to the Gardaí.
Delegates bravely stood up to remind the room that they were not just a statistic.
“I am not a number. I am human, and I will not be silenced,” one said.
UCC carried out a survey in their university last year that showed 1 in 7 of their students had been affected by sexual violence.
“We need to make damn sure that things start to change,” CIT Students’ Union Vice President for Welfare Stephanie Fogarty told the room when she urged the passing of the motion.
NUI Galway delegate Cameron Keighron and incoming NUI Galway Students’ Union Welfare Officer Clare Austick also spoke to the room on the motion. Cameron urged the need to teach about consent when students first enter university, while Clare told the floor that she wanted to tell anyone affected by the issues “You are strong, you are valuable, and you matter,” she said.
Many delegates spoke of the recent trial of Ulster rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding. They said that as members of their college Student Unions’ they wanted to urge any student affected to come to them because “you will be believed.”