The reality, though, is even more horrifying, as statistics show that not only are the majority of rapists male but that they are often known to their victims — sometimes friends, boyfriends or members of their own family.
There is a photo online showing a young, good-looking male student holding a placard declaring: “This is what a rapist looks like.” It was posted in response to an attempt at Trinity College Dublin to make workshops on sexual consent mandatory for first-year students.
The message appears to say: “As you can see, I am a regular guy. I am not a monster and, therefore, I will never be a rapist.” That young man could not be more wrong.
The irony is that even if he would never consider indulging in such heinous activity there are many more like him — young, handsome and engaging — who do.
One of the reasons for this is that, in most circumstances, rape and sexual assault by men on women is still not taken seriously as a crime in our society. That reality was exposed on Tuesday night in a compelling and dramatic account of sexual violence in Ireland.
As American activist Kate Harding, who wrote Asking For It, the definitive book on rape culture, explains: “It’s a culture that supports the needs of rapists more than the needs of victims.” Such a culture is not confined to Ireland. When Stanford University student Brock Turner was convicted of a sexual assault on campus, facing 14 years in jail, his father responded: “It’s a steep price for 20 minutes of action.”
In 2009, on the other side of the Atlantic, in Listowel, Co Kerry, a man jailed for a brutal sexual assault had supporters queueing up to shake his hand.
In the RTÉ programme, the most compelling account of sexual assault was given by Niamh Ní Dhomhnaill, whose boyfriend, Magnus Meyer, raped her while she was asleep. He saw it as a victimless crime while it took a friend to point out to her that she had been the victim of rape.
One of the most shocking parts of the programme concerned a young man who attended a Christian Brothers secondary school, and revealed that the only sex education he received in six years was a one-hour biological lecture delivered by a nun. It is little wonder that neither young men nor young women understand the importance of consent when it comes to intimacy and sexual activity.
While the criminal justice system has its place, it also has its limitations. Sexual education from prepubescence is essential to inform our young people — male and female — that intimacy may be permitted and pleasurable but that it also requires ongoing and sustained consent by both parties.