Executive director of the RCNI Fiona Neary said such was the prevalence of pornography in society that it could affect young people’s views of sexual consent which, matched with growing levels of alcohol use, was “like watching a car crash”.
She said young people were being exposed “to much more pornography than we realise”.
“I think if the Department of Education doesn’t clearly start looking at programmes which address the messages of pornography, we are really running into trouble,” she said.
“One of the problems with pornography is consent is never discussed. People in pornography, regardless of what they are doing, are always presented as being up for it, or else rape is presented as being enjoyable.
“So if our education with teenagers does not include programmes which tackle the messages in pornography, and which really look at the issue of consent and what consent means, I think we are making a whole host of trouble for ourselves.
“When you combine alcohol consumption with that, it is like watching a car crash.”
On the consistent levels of sexual violence across generations she said: “It is a catastrophe in Irish history that has not been officially recognised.”
Ms Neary made her comments at the launch of a DVD aimed at encouraging victims of sexual violence aged 55 and over to attend services.
At the event, Kathleen Lynch, minister of state at the Departments of Justice and Health, said she would continue to lobby ministers to introduce a specific offence of domestic violence.
RCNI data shows only 123 women aged 55 or over attended rape crisis centres in 2010. More than half would have experienced sexual violence as a child yet would not have attended services up to that point.
Referring to this legacy of sexual abuse and the increased exposure of young people to pornography, Ms Neary said more resources and research were needed, including an updating of the 2002 Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland report.
Despite claims of growing levels of sexual abuse and sexual violence, funding to organisations such as the RCNI and Safe Ireland has been cut. One partner in yesterday’s DVD launch, the Older Women’s Network, has had all its funding cut.
Ms Lynch said “an enormous amount of money” was spent on getting women “patched up and sent back” whereas more action had to be taken against the perpetrators of domestic violence.