This article attempts to provide estimates of the prevalence of sexual offences against children and adults in Ireland — the number of offences, the number of people affected and the number of sexual offenders, both convicted and unreported. These figures provide a context for individual press reports or personal experience of sexual abuse and assault.
In summary, this article estimates that every year in Ireland:
(See also Index, scale of sexual offending in Britain and Child sexual abuse in Sevenoaks School, Kent)
There are 4.6 million people in Ireland (2011), of whom 1.1 million are under 17 years of age (560,000 boys and 540,000 girls) and 3.5 million are 17 or older (1.7 million men and 1.8 million women).
According to the SAVI report, 5.6% of girls will have been raped, 20.4% raped or sexually assaulted and a further 5.1% will experience some form of non-contact sexual abuse before the age of 17 years. According to the SAVI report, 2.7% of boys will have been raped, 16.2% raped or sexually assaulted and a further 7.4% will experience non-contact sexual abuse before the age of 17 years. Of the 1.1 million children (560,000 boys and 540,000 girls) under the age of 17 years in Ireland, 45,360 will be raped and 200,880 will be raped or sexually assaulted. This equates to 6,500 sexual assaults (including 1,800 rapes) of girls and 5,300 sexual assaults (including 900 rapes) of boys who are raped or sexually assaulted for the first time each year.
The HSE reported 856 cases of child sexual abuse in 2006. The Gardaí recorded 125 sexual offences against children in 2012. These are approximately 8% and 1% of all estimated children experiencing childhood sexual abuse.
These figures all refer to cases or first rape or sexual assault and not the number of offences — some children will be exposed to repeated abuse.
The NSPCC Report on Child Abuse and Neglect states that 11.3% of children (17.8% of girls and 5.1% of boys) in the UK have experienced contact sexual abuse at some point, slightly lower than the SAVI report figures for Ireland.
The NSPCC also reports that 0.6% of under 11 year-olds and 9.4% of 11-17 year-olds experienced sexual abuse in the past year, which would lead to a lifetime exposure of 53% by age 18, compared to the 11.3% that the same children report. This indicates that the children who are sexually abused experience an average of about 5 incidents during childhood — some children are sexually abused only once, some are sexually abused many times. This implies that the number of offences is about 5 times greater, or about 60,000 child sexual offences in Ireland each year.
(Other international studies have reported that between 3% and 37% of boys, and between 8% and 71% of girls are sexually abused at some point in childhood. The scale of under-reporting of child sexual abuse is immense whichever point within this range is used.)
There were nearly 30,000 calls to all 15 Rape Crisis Centre network of helplines in 2011. The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre reported 12,040 calls in 2012, of which one third (4,046) were first time callers. About half of all calls (54%) were in relation to adult sexual violence and half (45%) in relation to childhood sexual abuse. Callers identified themselves as 82.64% female, 17.05% male and 0.31% transgender. 70.77% of calls were from the Dublin area. Callers said that 49.56% of recent adult rapes had been reported to Gardai, and 27.83% of past childhood sexual abuse. This would imply that nationally there were 10,000 first-time callers to the 15 Rape Crisis Centre helplines, disclosing 5,000 adult sexual offences (2,500 reported to Gardaí) and 5,000 childhood sexual abuse offences (1,300 reported to Gardaí).
According to the SAVI report, 10% of adult women and 3% of adult men disclose that they have been raped, 42% women and 28% of men disclose that they have experienced some form of sexual abuse or assault in either childhood or adulthood. That means 1.2 million adults in Ireland (750,000 women and 480,000 men) have experienced sexual abuse in childhood, or experienced rape or sexual assault as an adult.
There are 344 sex offenders in prison and 1,303 people recorded on the sex offenders register (Sex offenders to be monitored after leaving jail under new laws, Tom Brady and Fiach Kelly, Irish Independent 12 October 2013). This is just under 0.1% of the male population of Ireland (various studies suggest that between 1% and 5% of sex offenders are women, and that between 95% and 99% are men).
The actual prevalence of sexual offenders must lie somewhere between the 0.1% of men identified (which would imply an average of 300 victims per offender) and the proportion of people who have been raped or sexually assaulted, which is 30% of all people (if it were just one victim per offender). Other studies and commentators (such as Nick Davies) have suggested that approximately 5% of all men are sexual offenders. This estimate would suggest that 98% of sexual offenders have not been convicted.
(It should be noted that more than 90% of sexual offences that are recorded do not result in a conviction, so many of the unconvicted offenders will have been reported at some point, without effective action.)
Courts Service Annual Reports
Courts Service Annual Report 2012
Garda Publications and Annual Reports
Garda Annual Report 2012
CSO Crime and Justice Publications
Garda Recorded Crime Statistics 2011
The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre
DRCC Annual Report 2012
Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland
DoHC Health Statistics 2011
Section E — Children in Care and Child Abuse Cases Not accessible
DoHC Health Statistics 2008
Section E — Children in Care and Child Abuse Cases
DoHC Health Statistics 2005
Section E — Children in Care and Child Abuse Cases
‘Disturbing’ increase in calls to rape helpline in 2012 The Journal.ie, 24 July 2013
50,000 rapes each year but only 600 rapists sent to jail by Miranda Sawyer, The Observer, Sunday 31 July 2005