New study finds high rates of sexual violence

First study on this topic since 2002
  • Deborah Condon

Half of women in Ireland have experienced some sort of sexual violence in their lifetime, while one in five has been raped, a new study has found.

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin and Maynooth University looked at the rates of sexual violence among adults in the Republic - the first such report in almost 20 years.

The Sexual Assault and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) report was published back in 2002 and it found that one in four women had experienced some sort of sexual abuse in their lifetime, while one in five had experienced sexual assault as an adult.

This latest study is based on a nationally representative sample of over 1,000 adults. It found that overall, 15% of Irish adults have been raped at some point in their lives - one in five women and one in 10 men.

One in three adults have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lives, but again this is much higher among women (one in two) compared to men (one in five).

"We noted substantial differences in the rates of sexual violence between men and women, whereby women were found to be significantly more likely than men to have experienced sexual violence," commented the study's co-lead author, Dr Frédérique Vallières, director of the Trinity Centre for Global Health.

The study also looked at whether people who had suffered sexual violence were more likely to experience mental health problems during their lives.

"Our findings show that people who had been raped or sexually harassed were more likely to suffer from a range of mental health problems in adulthood including complex post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression and generalised anxiety," explained the study's co-lead author, Dr Philip Hyland, of the Department of Psychology at Maynooth University.

However, the study did find that while those who had been victims of sexual violence were more likely to have mental health problems, they did not experience greater disruption to their social functioning.

"Survivors of sexual violence were just as likely as those who had never been exposed to sexual violence to be in long-term committed relationships, to be employed, to be earning a high salary, and to have attended university.

"In some cases, survivors of sexual violence were doing better compared to those who had not suffered sexual violence. These findings show that despite living with the mental health effects of their trauma, survivors of sexual violence are extremely resilient," Dr Hyland noted.

The study has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

Commenting on the findings, the CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Noeline Blackwell, said that they "clearly demonstrate the pernicious mental health effects of sexual violence and the need to increase access to mental health services for survivors of sexual violence".

"Ensuring that available and accessible mental health services are integrated into sexual violence response programmes is central to achieving this. The research finding that survivors have great resilience mirrors our similar experience of their strength," she added.

The DRCC runs a national 24-hour helpline on 1800 77 88 88, or for more information on its services, click here.


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