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Press Statement

Sexual Violence Survey 2022 - Main Results

CSO press statement, , 11am

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) has today (19 April 2023) released Sexual Violence Survey 2022 – Main Results.

Today’s publication outlines the main results from the Sexual Violence Survey (SVS) which was conducted in 2022, following a request from the Department of Justice and the Government. The objective of the survey is to provide high quality national prevalence data on sexual violence in Ireland which will act as a new baseline for the levels of sexual violence in Ireland. The survey is proposed to be conducted again in 10 years’ time.

Sexual violence is defined in this survey as a range of non-consensual experiences, from non-contact experiences to non-consensual sexual intercourse. The word “violence” is sometimes associated with the use of force. However, as outlined in the Luxembourg Guidelines, which is a set of guidelines to harmonise terms on childhood sexual violence and abuse, “violence” can also mean having a marked or powerful effect on someone. The experiences detailed in this publication range across a variety of experiences up to and including those which result in the most serious violations of personal dignity. Examples of these experiences include:

  • a teenager persuading a friend to watch a pornographic video on their phone when they didn’t want to see it
  • someone being persuaded to undress or pose in a sexually suggestive way for photographs as a child
  • a young woman being made to touch another person’s genitals without her consent
  • a man being threatened to have sex.

This definition of sexual violence is based on national and international research (see Editor's Note below).

The CSO followed international best practice in using this definition of sexual violence, to ensure consistency of treatment in how these experiences were described in Ireland compared with other countries. We consulted widely with key stakeholders, expert groups and with a number of non-governmental organisations which provide support services. See Background Notes for further details. This knowledge base was then used to build this survey (see Editor’s Note below).

Tá leagan Gaeilge den leathanch seo ar fáil. Féach Preasráiteas - Suirbhé ar Fhoréigean Gnéis 2022 - Príomhthorthaí.

Four in ten adults reported experiencing sexual violence in their lifetime

  • The proportion of adults who experienced sexual violence in their lifetime was 40%, with higher levels for women (52%) compared with men (28%).

  • Overall, sexual violence prevalence rates in the survey show an age effect as younger people reported higher levels than older persons, for example, 22% of those aged 18-24 experienced sexual violence both as an adult and as a child compared with 8% of those aged 65 and over.

  • Four times as more women (21%) than men (5%) reported experiencing non-consensual sexual intercourse over their lifetime.

  • One in ten women (10%) experienced non-consensual sexual intercourse as an adult when they were unable to give consent.

  • Almost one in five (17%) men aged 25-34 experienced non-consensual sexual touching as an adult.

  • One in five adults experienced unwanted contact sexual violence as a child (20%) and a similar number experienced unwanted non-contact sexual violence (19%).

  • The majority of adults (78%) who experienced sexual violence at least once in their lifetime knew the perpetrator, with very little difference between women (79%) and men (75%).

  • About half of adults (47%) who experienced sexual violence in their lifetime told someone about it, with disclosure more likely if the experience was with a non-partner-only (55%) than with a partner-only (16%). Women who experienced sexual violence in their lifetime were more likely to have told someone (53%) compared with men (34%).

Statistician's Comment

Commenting on the results, Helen McGrath, Statistician in the Social Analysis Section, said:

“We appreciate that behind the data in today’s publication are a range of individual stories, which speak to the lived experience of those who have, and those who have not, experienced sexual violence. The publication today provides a lot of important detail and insight on a very serious and sensitive societal issue. The survey focused on respondents’ experiences of a broad spectrum of sexual violence and harassment experiences in their lifetime.

Overall Prevalence

Overall, we found that four in ten adults reported experiencing sexual violence over their lifetime. There were clear differences by sex and age in terms of experiences of sexual violence. Women were more likely to have experienced sexual violence (52%) compared with men (28%). Young women (aged 18-24) reported the highest levels of sexual violence experienced in their lifetime at 65%, compared with 17% for men aged 65 and over.

For non-consensual sexual intercourse, defined as sexual intercourse where the person was coerced, threatened or forced into having sex, women experienced four times the level (21%) in their lifetime compared with men (5%).

Adult Experiences

Adult experiences cover those which occurred over the age of consent in Ireland (17 years) which were shared in the survey by respondents who were aged 18 or over. Women reported higher levels of sexual violence than men across all sexual violence experiences as an adult. Women were six times more likely to have experienced non-consensual sexual intercourse as an adult (18%) than men (3%). Women aged 25-34 reported the highest levels across all adult sexual violence types. Non-consensual sexual intercourse as an adult was experienced by 29% of women aged 25-34 compared with 7% of women aged 65 and over.

One in ten women (10%) experienced non-consensual sexual intercourse when they were unable to give consent. Situations where a person was unable to give consent to the type of sexual violence they experienced included when they could not give consent, or stop what was happening, because they were asleep, passed out or under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.

Almost one in five (17%) men aged 25-34 experienced non-consensual sexual touching as an adult. Sexual touching in this survey includes instances where a person had their breasts and/or genitals touched by a someone without consent or were made to touch someone else’s breasts and/or genitals without consent.

Childhood Experiences

Childhood experiences cover those which occurred under the age of consent in Ireland (17 years) and are based on replies from those aged 18 and over. Therefore, the data in this publication does not provide insight on current levels of child sexual violence in Ireland. One in five adults experienced unwanted contact sexual violence as a child (20%). Unwanted contact sexual experiences include a child being touched in a sexual way or being made to touch another person in a sexual way, experienced sexual intercourse or attempted sexual intercourse, and any other unwanted non-specified sexual contact. Similarly, one in five adults experienced unwanted non-contact sexual violence as a child (19%). Unwanted non-contact sexual experiences include being shown pornographic material, being asked to pose in a sexually suggestive manner for photographs, having someone expose themselves or someone masturbating in front of a child. The rate for unwanted contact sexual violence as a child was 25% for women, compared with 15% of men. Child sexual violence was experienced by women and men across all age groups, but young women (aged 18-24) reported the highest levels of child sexual violence across all violence types. Unwanted sexual intercourse as a child was experienced by 10% of women aged 18-24 compared with 2% of men in this age group.

Perpetrator of Sexual Violence

In general, most people who experienced sexual violence (78%) reported that they knew the perpetrator, with very little difference between men and women. Men (52%) reported higher levels than women (36%) of experiences of sexual violence with a non-partner-only. For experiences of sexual violence from both a partner and non-partner, women had higher levels (38%) than men (25%).

Disclosure of Sexual Violence

Patterns in disclosure were different for the sexes and across ages. Women had higher levels of disclosure (53%) than men (34%). People aged 18-34 reported the highest level of disclosure at 50%, while the lowest level of 41% was among those aged 65 and over. There were higher rates of disclosure when the experience of sexual violence as an adult was with a non-partner-only (55%) compared with those who experienced it with a partner-only (16%).

Appreciation

We would like to thank everyone who took part in this survey. Each person who engaged with this survey has helped the CSO to present a clear picture of the prevalence of sexual violence in Ireland.

A key challenge in collecting data on this sensitive subject is to address the risk of underreporting by respondents. The CSO worked to minimise this risk, principally by ensuring our questionnaire met best international standards and by providing a confidential setting for the conduct of the survey so that respondents could safely and confidentially share their experiences of sexual violence with us. As part of the survey, we asked the respondent if they had experienced sexual violence using a set of behaviourally specific questions and then asked if they disclosed that experience to anyone. Around 500 respondents indicated they had never disclosed any of their sexual violence experience(s) to anyone, but these respondents did feel comfortable enough to share their experience with the CSO. We thank those people for placing their trust in us, and all those who took part in the survey.”

Editor's Note

Survey Details

The data for the survey was collected between May and December 2022. For the data collection phase, the survey was known as the “Safety of the Person” survey in accordance with ethical guidelines to ensure a graduated introduction to the survey and to better ensure the personal safety of respondents who may be in an ongoing abusive relationship. To ensure that a wide range of respondents could engage with the survey, a range of data collection modes were used: secure web form, self-completion facilitated by an interviewer, and a paper form. Despite the sensitive nature of the survey, more than 4,500 respondents took part. An FAQ for the survey is available.

Definitions on Sexual Violence Experiences

Sexual violence is defined in this survey as a range of non-consensual experiences, from non-contact experiences to non-consensual sexual intercourse. Non-consensual sexual intercourse is defined as sexual intercourse where the person was coerced, threatened or forced into having sex. While this may generally meet the definition of “rape”, the Office will refer to these experiences as “non-consensual sexual intercourse”, because this is how we framed the relevant questions for respondents. We did this to ensure we captured, to the fullest extent possible, the range of sexual violence experiences which people may have encountered. See Background Notes for further details. In addition, where the word reported is used in this publication it means that the person told the CSO as part of this survey.

Methodology

This survey represents significant development work and design. An outline of the survey development, definition of the variables, survey data collection and interpretation of data was covered in a recent Methodology Seminar.

Comparability of Results with Other Surveys or Results from Other Countries

Comparing the results of sensitive surveys like the SVS to other surveys or the results from other countries can be very challenging. Comparability between surveys on similar topics must take into consideration several factors, such as differences between definitions of variables over time and between countries, how the survey is introduced or collected, etc. For further information, see the Introduction to the publication and the Background Notes.

Audio Files

A number of audio files accompanying this release are available in both English and Irish. Media outlets have permission to use these clips as long as they credit the CSO. Go to the audio files page.

Press Conference

A Press Conference was held for the publication of this release. Please visit the Press Conference page to view a recording and download the presentation slides.

Contacts

Helen McGrath (+353) 21 453 5108
Keith McSweeney (+353) 21 453 5423
Email svs@cso.ie

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