First nationwide survey about sexual violence in two decades will be published by CSO

First nationwide survey about sexual violence in two decades will be published by CSO

The first nationwide survey about sexual violence since the Savi report in 2002 is to be published by the Central Statistics Office in March 2023. Picture: Think Stock

Two decades after the first and only national survey on sexual violence in Ireland was published, a second such study is being finalised by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and is expected to be published in March.

The 2002 Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (Savi) report was groundbreaking in its scope and methodology and became an internationally-acclaimed piece of research.

It has informed the new CSO Sexual Violence Survey, which expects to have data from the main survey finalised this month.

“In no other sector would we rely on 20-year-old data to inform investment,” Hannah McGee said at an event organised by the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) to mark the Savi report’s 20th anniversary.

Prof Hannah McGee said the Savi report indicated that one in 30 men had been anally or orally raped, and that two in 30 women had suffered that extreme level of sexual violence. File picture
Prof Hannah McGee said the Savi report indicated that one in 30 men had been anally or orally raped, and that two in 30 women had suffered that extreme level of sexual violence. File picture

DRCC had commissioned the research due to a lack of data on how prevalent sexual violence was in Ireland.

Professor McGee, now deputy vice chancellor at the Royal College of Surgeons, was lead author of the Savi report. 

“Ireland was ahead internationally in its documentation of sexual violence across the population (both child sexual abuse and adult sexual violence) in 2002 when Savi was published,” she said.

"It came out ahead of all of the institutional abuse cases and reports — Ferns, Murphy, Cloyne etc. And thus it gave a robust profile of the level, types, and responses to sexual violence in the wider community,” she said.

“In the intervening 20 years — with the advent of the internet and mobile phone technologies, and more attention to drug-assisted sexual violence, human trafficking, rape as a weapon of civil conflict, etc, all of which may change the nature and prevalence of sexual crimes — we have not had a follow-up survey.

“So how can we tell if and where we are making progress; where the new challenges are; where initiatives are really making a difference; whether increased service users reflects increased sexual violence or increased willingness to seek help?

Investment in prevention — and in intervening to address health and justice needs — needs a foundation in evidence to inform the best use of resources.

"I welcome the Central Statistics Office plan to develop a survey, and the Consent / sexual health agenda in higher education which is rolling out across campuses nationally.” 

In 2002, Savi found that 42% of women and 28% of men surveyed had been impacted by sexual violence.

For the most severe crime of penetration, 10% of women surveyed had been subjected to it, and 3% of men.

Dublin Rape Crisis Centre CEO Noeline Blackwell pictured receiving an honorary degree earlier this month. File picture: Maxwell's
Dublin Rape Crisis Centre CEO Noeline Blackwell pictured receiving an honorary degree earlier this month. File picture: Maxwell's

Prof McGee said that, if you think of a GAA match, that statistic would mean that, on average, one boy out of the two teams had experienced the most extreme form of sexual violence — oral or anal rape — by the time he was 17. And two girls — one from each team — would have been raped by the time she was 17.

It also found that 23% of males surveyed had experienced sexual violence as a boy under 17 while 13% of men surveyed had experienced it as adults.

And 32% of girls had experienced sexual violence as children or teenagers under 17 while 25% of women had experienced sexual violence as an adult.

Savi also showed that 3% of people surveyed who suffered child abuse were abused by members of the clergy, showing how endemic sexual violence was across society, right up to closest family relations, Prof McGee said.

And while 42% of women surveyed had never previously disclosed that violence; 60% men had never spoken of it before.

Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) chief executive Noeline Blackwell said: “The 2002 Savi research proved beyond doubt that sexual abuse and violence was experienced by far too many in Ireland. 

Far too many children were abused. Almost half of Irish women had suffered abuse.

“Those insights came into a society in which sexual violence was still mainly hidden and received far too little attention over the years.

“That failure of attention, combined with the failure to keep up to date with further research, means that opportunities to plan, to prevent sexual violence, and to better support survivors may have been missed.

Ms Blackwell said the Savi report “showed us in plain sight the prevalence of sexual violence in Ireland” but yet, it was never repeated.

“It gave evidence from which good decisions and policy could be made, but for all its brilliance was not taken on board in way could have been,” she said.

“To this day, the whole discussion around sexual violence remains too hidden, too hard to talk about for those who experience it, and too distant from members of society even though we are clear that sexual violence takes place in all parts of society.” 

It is an issue where women are disproportionately affected in terms of numbers and the impact on them.

For example, new research on consent found that only 65% of respondents strongly agreed that someone could change their mind on consent at any point in a sexual encounter.

Research data which is still being analysed by DRCC suggests that people in all walks of life across Ireland now desperately want a national conversation on sex, consent, and relationships.

• If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please click here for a list of support services.

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