‘Comprehensive and Substantial’ Sexual Violence Survey Proves That Sexual Violence Remains Endemic in Irish Society 

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) has today released the first of six reports from its Sexual Violence Survey measuring the prevalence of sexual violence in Ireland. This is the first sexual violence prevalence report from the CSO and provides a baseline for our work from here on. As a member of the CSO’s Sexual Violence Survey Liaison Group since its establishment in 2019, Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) warmly welcomes this comprehensive and substantial piece of research that embeds sexual violence firmly as a State priority. By commissioning the CSO, a State body, to undertake this vital work the Government takes responsibility for measuring the prevalence of sexual violence today and the obligation to end it. The survey measures the proportion of the population that had experienced sexual violence in their lifetime and it is intended that this data will be collected every ten years.  

Key findings 

  • Four in ten people experience sexual violence in their lifetime: women (52%) report higher levels than men (28%). 
  • Young women report (aged 18-24) the highest levels of sexual violence experienced in their lifetime at 65%. 
  • 64% of females who experienced sexual violence in their lifetime were abused by a partner/ex-partner and 48% of males. 

Levels of societal awareness of sexual violence and consent have shifted greatly in recent times. However, in spite of 20 years of policy and legal changes, sexual violence remains a reality for 52% of females and 28% of males. While we cannot say if the prevalence levels have increased or decreased as this research is not directly comparable with the 2002 Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland report, what is clear is that sexual violence is endemic and it is perpetrated throughout the whole lifecycle of people in a wide range of different environments. We also need to look at the complexities and crossovers between sexual and domestic violence and how opportunity and vulnerabilities intersect. 

While we need more research and reflection to fully understand the different life experiences of the younger and older cohort, that there is a higher level of prevalence amongst them is stark and undeniable and indicates that we must be aware of the impact of emerging forms of sexual violence. For example, we see a measure of sexual non- contact category which will be important in understanding digitally-enabled sexual abuse.  

 The prevalence of sexual violence amongst young women is particularly shocking when it is considered that their lifetime has only covered 25 years. While we must wait for subsequent reports for details on vital information on the gender of perpetrators, we know that male violence is a stark reality we need to face up to with increased commitment and determination. We need urgent action to tackle on-going misogyny and the unwillingness of a large proportion of males to view females as equal human beings as the root cause of this violence.  

Comparison in the new baseline of age is an important indicator of changes in sexual violence experiences but it is not definitive. We need to understand better what these differences are telling us. Survey findings that about half of adults who experienced sexual violence in their lifetime told someone about it are encouraging. While it appears that more and more survivors feel able to tell someone in their lives about what was done to them, there is still a long way to go before our society is safe for all survivors.  

Dr Clíona Sáidléar, Executive Director, Rape Crisis Network Ireland:  

‘It is evident that a cultural and societal shift has taken place in the last 20 years and having this vital evidence-base offers us the opportunity to reflect on where we are now and the work we now need to do. We must continue to support initiatives that confront and challenge the perpetration of sexual violence and the cultural and societal attitudes that inform it. We must also continue to provide Rape Crisis and specialist support for those affected by sexual violence. This means a funding allocation that will secure fair, survivor-centred, geographical access to sexual violence services and helplines.’  

Understanding what these figures are telling us about our culture and sexual violence will take further consideration and research and we await further reports on Adult Experiences, Children Experiences, Disclosure, Harassment and Attitudes from the CSO with interest. Says Dr Sáidléar:  

‘We must always remain attentive to survivors and their trauma, in particular when they find it hard to speak. While we have made considerable inroads in our culture to challenge the stigma that leads to victim- blaming or the belief that victims were in some way tainted by their experience, we now have new, emerging stigmas informed by pornography and a distortion of liberalised attitudes to sex that centre around accusations of being sexually unadventurous. In a world where it is at the very least uncool, if not suspicious, to have any set boundaries on our sexual lives, how do you name when a boundary was crossed? The impact of both forms of stigma is the same; minimisation and denial, which silences survivors and serves perpetrators.’ 

 The SVS report is available on the CSO websiteThe sample is a nationally representative figure and as such, minority groups were not specifically targeted within this research. Therefore, the Government and the new Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence Agency currently being developed by the Department of Justice will be engaging in more qualitative research into groups whose experiences may be distinct from the rest of the population. The data published today will be critical in ensuring resources services and responses are directed to where they are needed and to ensure that no one gets left behind.

Front page of CSO Sexual Violence Survey 2022