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01st Apr 2018

Richie Sadlier’s words about the importance of consent struck a chord with viewers

Dave Hanratty

“Conversations like this are important, and we need to keep having them, because it’s an uncomfortable area for a lot of people to talk about.”

In the wake of the Belfast trial verdict, many people in Ireland are attempting to establish a full and frank conversation on the nature of consent and sexual education.

For ex-Ireland and Millwall footballer Richie Sadlier, that means meeting young Irish men on a genuine level in a bid to change how they think about their sex lives for the better.

A qualified psychotherapist and regular contributor to the Second Captains podcast – who tackled the subject of consent last Thursday on an episode that has received widespread acclaim – Sadlier has a unique insight into dressing-room culture and the male privilege that may arise from a successful career in sport.

These days, he’s more familiar with a classroom than the football pitch, as he teaches a mental fitness module in a secondary school with psychologist Elaine Byrne.

Sadlier was present as part of a panel on The Ray D’Arcy Show on Saturday night, alongside rape survivor Niamh Ní Dhomhnaill and Chief Executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre Noeline Blackwell.

Sadlier began by discussing the six-week module about sexual health that he and Byrne teach together.

“One of the patterns and the themes that kept emerging was the whole area of sexuality, and it became apparent very quickly that there’s very little support for young people in this area,” he said.

“It’s not just about consent – consent is an element of it, and it’s a very important one,” he explained, noting that initially he was met with some resistance by the students.

“They’d had a couple of classes on this topic previously, and the approach of the teacher on that occasion was from a crime reduction, a crime avoidance perspective, and to a group of lads, some of whom have very little experience, who aren’t sexually active at all, they were quite defensive. So, we kind of flipped the approach entirely.

“Our approach to consent is to really promote respect and communication,” Sadlier continued.

“Communication all the time with a view to enhancing the experience. If you talk to teenagers about ways that they can have better sex lives, they’ll listen. If you talk to them in a finger-wagging way about not ending up in court, they’ll get defensive, so we cover it from that angle.”

Sadlier also spoke of the importance of asking questions and having a real conversation with those who might be in need of education.

“This is an area that a lot of people have questions in, and we don’t really have a history in this country of speaking openly or comfortably about sex, at all,” he offered.

“So we have to create an environment where everyone feels as if they’re supported, they’re not going to be judged, they’re not going to be shamed if they ask a question, if they’ve given an opinion that I don’t agree with, or that Elaine or any of the others in the class don’t agree with, it’s still a valid opinion and we’ll get the opportunity to discuss it.”

Clip via RTÉ

“Conversations like this are important, and we need to keep having them because it’s an uncomfortable area for a lot of people to talk about,” added Sadlier.

With the subject of gender and a possible split between male and female attitudes raised, Noeline Blackwell highlighted a key distinction.

“It’s not about gender,” said Blackwell.

“Because, actually, we’re getting men phoning up [the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre] apologising for being men, and the point is it’s not about your gender; it’s about your attitude, it’s about your mindset – this is what it’s about.”

You can watch the segment in full on the RTÉ Player here.