When we decided to look into the experiences of USEs of students in Northern Ireland, it was vital that it did not cause more harm than good.
Over the past decade, there has been a wealth of research on sexual misconduct. However, implementing findings of such research has often come up against institutional aversion to risk.
These risks are associated with ethical design and implications of this research, institutional reputation, and operational readiness of the institution to respond to the issue. These are three reasonable reasons not to pursue such research – notwithstanding the additional impact and consequence to the researchers.
Before designing our survey – which found that 63 per cent of a 1033 sample reported experiencing at least one type of USE (rape, attempted rape, unwanted sexual contact, coercion or attempted coercion into a sexual act) since their time at university – we invited local support organisations (e.g., Nexus NI, Victim Support NI, Women’s Aid), senior academics, university support staff, and student union representatives to meet with us. The meetings were conversational, often over a hot beverage, and open to discussion on the project and the wider issue of sexual violence in NI, as well as a chance to share knowledge. This oversight from critical friends was vital regarding the ethical design and implementation of the survey.