This 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 is based on national research, using the Scoping Group on Sexual Violence Data, and also on international research. The latter included the Istanbul convention, methodological manual for the EU survey on gender-based violence against women and other forms of inter-personal violence (EU-GBV), the Luxembourg guidelines and relevant research from the United Nations.
The CSO worked with a range of stakeholders in Ireland to ensure that the survey was well-designed, operationally effective and conducted in an ethical manner. Extensive consultation, which was a notable feature of the development of this survey, included:
- The Scoping Group on Sexual Violence Data, which provided an outline list of data requirements.
- Data and Policy Expert Groups, which were used to ensure that the survey data would provide an understanding of this important societal issue and also be relevant for policy.
- Liaison Groups with the Department of Justice and the Non-Governmental Organisation support service community. These groups helped to ensure that the survey would meet the needs of service providers. They also made sure that the questionnaire was designed to obtain good engagement by respondents, given the particularly sensitive nature of the questions.
- Social Statistics Ethics Advisory Group, to ensure the ethical conduct of the survey.
More details on the consultation process can be found in the Background Notes.
This survey covers a particularly sensitive topic and therefore the most important consideration was that it be conducted in an ethical manner. It was asked of adults in Ireland, (aged 18 and over), in a randomly generated national sample. The survey asked about child and adult experiences of sexual violence.
The child sexual violence experiences cover those which occurred under the age of consent in Ireland, (under 17 years). As they are based on replies from those aged 18 and over, they do not provide insights on current levels of child sexual violence. They do not cover experiences between children which include any sexual experiences with which they were comfortable, for example, with a boyfriend or girlfriend who was a similar age to them at the time.
The data for the survey was collected between May and December 2022. To ensure our ethical responsibilities to respondents who may have been in an ongoing abusive relationship, the survey was known as the ‘Safety of the Person’ survey during the data collection phase. Ethical considerations also led to the decision to have a graduated and less explicit introduction to the survey. After this initial introduction, before the respondent began the main part of the survey, they were informed clearly about the nature of the survey and their consent was sought before they could proceed through to the survey questionnaire. To ensure that a wide range of respondents could engage with the survey, a range of data collection modes was used: secure web-form, face-to-face with a confidential element for the sensitive questions, and a paper form. The vast majority of respondents replied via the secure web-form.
This publication is the first of six resulting from the Sexual Violence Survey 2022 (see Background Notes for details). This Main Results publication includes information by sex and age, on overall prevalence levels for lifetime adulthood and childhood experiences of sexual violence, by type of sexual violence experience (contact, non-contact, etc.), as well as the overlap between child and adult sexual violence experiences. It also includes data on the relationship with the perpetrator and whether the person disclosed their experience of sexual violence to anyone (by adult and child experience). The remaining publications will be on:
- Experiences of Sexual Violence in Adulthood, 09 May 2023
- Experiences of Sexual Violence in Childhood (end May/June 2023)
- Disclosure of Sexual Violence Experiences (no later than end June 2023)
- Sexual Harassment and Stalking (no later than end July 2023)
- Attitudes to sexual violence (no later than end July 2023)
The interpretation of results from a sexual violence survey can be challenging as there are a lot of different factors to consider.
Sensitive nature of the data being requested:
- This survey was sensitive and required explicit questions to be asked of participants. For those who have not had experiences of sexual violence in their lifetime, it may generate unease, and for those who have experienced sexual violence, the topic may generate fear and distress. In addition, respondents who have experienced sexual violence may have their own coping mechanisms which can often lead to the minimisation of the experiences. True prevalence of sexual violence is difficult to identify but a survey, which depends on the cooperation of respondents to disclose, may be a close proxy to the true prevalence level if collected in a way that reduces the risk of underreporting, among other things. The CSO has put in place many mechanisms to work toward reducing the risk of underreporting, in particular the use of self-completion when collecting the survey data. This ensured a confidential setting for the provision of the responses (see Background Notes for more details).
Socially desirable norms:
- Along with the sensitive nature of the topic and the risk of associated underreporting, the issue of socially desired norms is an important one to consider. A recent Eurostat report on Gender-Based Violence noted that “it is important to take into account the extent to which violence is tolerated in the wider community . . . for example, in cultures where people are ready to talk about their painful experience, their answers may reflect more accurately their own experiences rather than community norms. However, in less aware communities it may be that people might reflect socially desirable norms”. In a US study of sexual violence, in commenting on the reported prevalence of sexual violence over time in the US, they noted that an “increased willingness to disclose victimisation experiences appears to be a plausible explanation for the increases in estimates of” sexual violence. Norms can change over time. A number of public awareness campaigns on gender-based violence issues have been run nationally since 2019 in Ireland. This along with wider international movements like #metoo, or the wider coverage of sexual violence disclosure and court proceedings in Ireland can expand the public awareness of these issues.
- The public perception of the prevalence of sexual violence by those who have not experienced sexual violence was examined in this survey. The results showed high levels of societal awareness in Ireland around sexual violence. Almost nine in ten women and about seven in ten men reported that sexual violence against women is “common”. Fewer people reported that sexual violence against men is “common” – about five in ten women and three in ten men. Younger people were more likely to say that sexual violence against women or men is “common”. See Background Notes for more details.
In addition to the issues highlighted above, the following should be considered when attempting to compare the results of this survey with the results of other countries/other surveys:
- Differences in the definitions of variables over time and country - some sexual violence variables may be formed on a definition based on the current country specific legal interpretation of criminal acts, while others may take a broader sense of the issue.
- How the survey is framed may lead to a different prevalence level - for example, if it is collected as part of a crime survey, the respondents may not disclose some sexual violence experiences due to minimisation of the experience as a coping mechanism (the respondent may not categorise them as crimes). The CSO Sexual Violence Survey is a stand-alone survey.
- How the data is collected can have an impact on the prevalence levels – the more confidential the data collection setting the more likely you are to achieve a truer prevalence level. How countries collect this information differs. The CSO Sexual Violence Survey offered respondents a secure and confidential way (secure web-form directly addressed to the respondent) to respond to the survey.
The detail in this publication may be affecting for those reading it, dealing as it does with some of the most sensitive and traumatic experiences that people can encounter. If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this survey, help is available from the following national helplines or from local/regional helplines which you can find in the Background Notes:
- National Sexual Violence Helpline (for men and women) - 1800 778 888 or rapecrisishelp.ie
- National Domestic Violence Helpline (for women) - 1800 341 900
- Male Advice Line (for men experiencing domestic abuse) - 1800 816 588
The CSO would like to thank the many contributors to this project. We would like to particularly thank the following people:
- The respondents who engaged with this survey. We are extremely conscious that this survey was very sensitive. We are very appreciative of the trust of respondents in our conduct of the survey and in how we will protect the confidentiality of their experiences. We would like to thank all the respondents who engaged with this survey for their cooperation.
- We would like to thank the about 500 respondents who indicated that they had not disclosed any of their sexual violence experience(s) to anyone, but yet they did engage with our survey. We are able to present a clear picture of the prevalence of sexual violence in Ireland thanks to the cooperation of people who had not disclosed their sexual violence to anyone. We are very grateful for their engagement with this survey.
- Our field data collection team who collected this important societal information.
- The Department of Justice – which provided funding for the survey and also contributed on an ongoing basis to the development of our project work in this area.
- The NGO support service community who provided valuable insight throughout the survey development.
had not disclosed any of their sexual violence experiences to anyone, but they did engage in our survey
Source: CSO Ireland, Sexual Violence Survey 2022 – Main Results