I thank Deputy Dillon for this important and timely question. The Speak Out tool, launched last month, as the Deputy said, is an online, anonymous reporting tool for incidents of bullying, harassment, discrimination, assault, sexual harassment and sexual assault, led by the PCHEI group, with funding provided by my Department. Speak Out allows staff and students to report harassment across all equality grounds, including sexual misconduct and racial discrimination.
The platform is currently available in the higher education sector and is being rolled out across 18 higher education institutions to support staff, students and visitors in speaking out against misconduct. So far, 14 higher education institutions have begun using the tool, while University College Dublin, UCD, already has a similar reporting tool in place. It is important to note that not everyone is ready to speak out through formal avenues, such as an official report, and this anonymous reporting tool will allow victims to detail their experiences through a safe, trauma-informed platform. This tool will raise awareness of the supports available to students and staff and encourage them to seek help, if they need it, and will provide them with access to the required information in that regard. It is hoped that engagement with this tool will encourage individuals to make formal complaints if and when they feel comfortable and ready to do so.
The tool enables institutions to track incidents across campuses. That will be important, in addition to enabling individuals to submit reports. The tool will provide data, and this facility will enable institutions to first track incidents and then to inform their review of policies and procedures and to develop targeted approaches. This includes tackling misconduct and also creating formal reporting routes for affected staff and students. As part of the framework for consent, institutions must report incidents of bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and sexual assault to the Higher Education Authority, HEA, and this tool will allow them to do so in a timely and standardised fashion. I welcome, in particular, that institutions will report next year on statistics gathered through this tool and an assessment of its impact and usage will be carried out at the end of this academic year.