Noeline Blackwell appointed to UCD leadership amid sexual harassment scandal

Noeline Blackwell appointed to UCD leadership amid sexual harassment scandal

Noeline Blackwell

Human rights lawyer Noeline Blackwell, who heads Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC), has been appointed to the governing body of University College Dublin (UCD) in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal.

Ms Blackwell’s appointment was announced by Higher Education Minister Simon Harris after Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháinn spoke out about a two-year period of harassment by a colleague at the university.

UCD has apologised to Dr Ní Shúilleabháinn and pledged to introduce a “zero tolerance” policy approach to sexual assault and harassment.

Ms Blackwell has said that she will work to support policies to make that a reality and rid university life of the tolerance of sexual abuse and harassment.

She told The Irish Times: “We’ve said over the years that it couldn’t possibly be the case; that the system was good given how few reports of sexual harassment all the colleges showed.

“Now, in large part thanks to Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, it is clear that this is something that is little understood in UCD as well as other colleges.

“Our perception in the Rape Crisis Centre is that it is a very damaging malfunction within university society and it is damaging to those who have been abused, the institution itself, and to all of us as a society.

“Hopefully I will be able to support efforts to rid the tolerance of sexual abuse and harassment that exists in all higher-level institutions.

“I think UCD is trying to achieve this already. I was out there last year at the launch of a new function for anonymous reporting so they were clearly working on various aspects.

“It is, though, going to take quite a lot of thought, time and resources to instigate a true zero-tolerance approach to sexual assault and harassment.”

Mr Harris told The Irish Times: “Noeline’s appointment, I hope, signals my intent in this area. I am conscious a lot of good work has been done by many universities in tackling sexual harassment and consent. But there is a lot of work to do.

“Noeline is an incredible advocate, a strong feminist and a wonderful person. I know she will be a powerful voice in demanding the change we need in society. Third level can be a real leader here.”

In relation to the allegations made by Dr Ní Shúilleabháin, professor Hans Benjamin-Braun was convicted of harassment in 2019. UCD confirmed Mr Braun left the university prior to that.

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