One in five Irish adult women have been raped in their lifetime, according to a study by NUI Maynooth and Trinity College, while one in two experience some form of sexual violence.
The two universities sampled over 1000 people across Ireland in the first landmark study of the prevalence of sexual violence since 2002.
The study also found that one in 10 men have been raped in their lifetime, with one in five men experiencing some form of sexual violence.
“It’s easy to think in Ireland we’ve made great progress and it’s not in our backyard, but it is. If you’re in college, or you’re in work, somebody sitting beside you is probably a victim of sexual violence,” said Dr Philip Hyland, Associate Professor of Psychology at NUIM and co-lead on the study.
“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,” said study co-lead Dr Frédérique Vallières, Director of the Trinity Centre for Global Health
Vallières added that this principle is critical to communicate in light of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25th.
About nine per cent of all adults who said they experienced sexual violence experienced it during childhood. About 16 per cent said they experienced it in adolescent, and about 17 per cent said they became a victim in adulthood.
On top of illustrating the prevalence of rape and sexual assault in Ireland, the university study also examined the mental health implications that sexual violence has on victims.
“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,” said Hyland.
However, the study also found that survivors of sexual violence were just as likely to be in long term relationships, employed, earning a high salary, and attending a university, as those who have never been exposed to sexual violence.
“These findings show that despite living with the mental health effects of their trauma, survivors of sexual violence are extremely resilient,” Hyland said.
Noeline Blackwell, CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, said the resilience of victims should in no way decrease the urgency to increase access to mental health aids for victims.
“Ensuring that available and accessible mental health services are integrated into sexual violence response programmes is central. The research finding that survivors have great resilience mirrors our similar experience of their strength,” she said.
Blackwell told The Irish Times that victims often have to wait 12 to 18 months for help from a recovery service after they have been victimised.
“When you don’t address something that has hit you in your most intimate being and is very often a breach of trust, then, like any other wound, it festers and can make it harder to heal,” she said.
Devin Sean Martin
Image Credit: Anthony Tran