Victims’ greatest fear — not being believed

A MERE one in 12 women who are sexually assaulted will tell the gardaí. A third of those who keep it to themselves do so because they feel they will be held accountable, they are too ashamed, they think they will not be believed or they blame themselves.

These were the results of the landmark Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland report in 2002 which looked into the prevalence of sex crimes and attitudes towards them.

Today, an Irish Examiner/Red C poll reveals that among a significant portion of people the fears of raped women about how others will react are entirely justified.

A sizeable minority will cast a cold eye on the victim’s behaviour as much as the rapist’s.

The report’s first recommendation was that a comprehensive public awareness on sexual violence be developed and evaluated.

This has never happened and six years on today’s poll shows the cohort of people who told the SAVI report that they believe a rape victim is normally not an innocent victim are still likely to blame a raped woman.

While the report queried more general attitudes today’s poll shows in a number of specific circumstances a significant portion of people will find a female rape victim entirely at fault if she behaves in a certain way. The findings were:


If a woman is drunk or has taken illegal drugs one third of people believe is partially responsible if she is raped. Eight percent said she is totally at fault. Of those:

* More than half of men under the age of 25 believe a woman is at least in some way answerable.

* Full-time students and retired people have the harshest opinions on rape victims in these situations.

* People living rural areas were 7% more likely to find fault with the woman’s behaviour.

* Widowed, divorced and separated people were five times more likely to say the woman was totally responsible than a person married or living with their partner.


One in 20 people asked about a woman who was raped while wearing sexy or revealing clothes said she was totally responsible for what happened and 21% felt she had some role to play in bringing on her attack. Of those:

* Retired people had the most negative views towards the victim — more than half felt she was in some way responsible.

* Full-time students were the kindest towards women in these circumstances with 83% saying the rapist was completely wrong.

* Women were slightly quicker to point the finger at the dress sense of the rape victim with one quarter feeling she was at least partially at fault.

* Just 1% of people refused to give an opinion — 2% said they did not know.

These figures were reflected in similar proportions across all situations with the vast majority of respondents willing to give a point of view.


Rape victims who had many previous sexual partners produced the most divergent views as to their responsibility, with 10% of people overall claiming they are entirely at fault if a man forces himself on them. Of those:

* One in six women over the age of 45 said a woman with multiple ex-sexual partners was totally responsible for being raped. They were less tolerant than men and women in all other age groups.

* Widowed, divorced and separated people were more than twice as keen to find fault with the victim compared with those living in married or cohabiting situations.

* People living in Munster were the quickest to absolve a victim of any guilt with 69% saying she was in no way responsible.

* At 10%, women were marginally more comfortable with the idea a rapist in this situation had nothing to answer for and should get off the hook.


If a woman flirts extensively with a man 36% of people said she is at least partially responsible for being raped. One in 10 said she was entirely culpable. Of those:

* Men were far more likely to attach guilt to the woman in this situation.

* Eleven in every 20 men over the age of 45 said she was in some way liable — four out of 10 women the same age felt similarly.

* There were only a small difference among the regions with those living in Leinster (excluding Dublin) the most accepting of a flirtatious woman.

* Political voting patterns had minimal impact on opinions generally. However, among supporters of the two main parties those who voted Fine Gael in 2007 were more likely to say a woman is answerable especially in this category and for the questions about drink/drugs, sexual partners and if the victim failed to clearly say no.


If a woman is raped while walking home through a dangerous or deserted area three out of 10 people said she was somewhat to blame and 9% felt she was totally at fault. Of those:

* Women were considerably (10%) keener to say the woman was responsible than men.

* Almost a half of woman aged under-25 and older than 45 took a dim view of the rape victim’s decision to walk home.

* 15% of housewives absolved the rapist of all responsibility on account of his victim’s route home.

* There was a significant regional difference with Munster residents 12% quicker to criticise the judgment of the woman compared with those living in Dublin.


When a woman goes home with a man and decides not to have sex 21% of people felt she was partially responsible for what happened — 5% said she was absolutely in the wrong. Of those:

* People without children were more than three times more likely to find the woman totally at fault compared to parents.

* Women were more inclined to say the victim was blameworthy.

* In this, and all other situations, men and women aged between the ages of 25-44 were the most tolerant of a woman’s actions.

* One in 10 unemployed people said if a woman decides not to have sex after going home with a man she is 100% in the wrong.


If a woman reports a rape after failing to clearly say no 31% of people surveyed said she was in some way to blame and one in 14 said she was totally responsible. Of those:

* Men under the age of 25 were more likely to side with the rapist than woman the same age, but among those older than 45 the views were most severe among females.

* There was only a marginal urban/rural spilt regarding this question, but it was one of only two circumstances where Dublin residents had the least tolerant views towards the victim, the other was if she went home with a man and decided not to have sex.

* 11% of woman over the age of 45 said the victim in these circumstances was completely in the wrong.

* Full-time students and retired people were most inclined to say the victim was partially responsible, but the students were the least likely to say she was totally at fault.

* In all seven situations adults under the age 25 were far more likely to blame a raped woman than people aged 25 to 44.

This supports research on teenagers’ attitudes to sex crimes carried out by Women’s Aid in 2001 and has led Amnesty International to demand use of the state education system to better inform young people about consent.

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