CSO Sexual Violence Survey in Ireland 2022

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The SAVI, Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland, report dates from 2002 and needed to be updated.

The CSO, commissioned to carry out a new survey,  released its Sexual Violence Survey, SVS,  on April 19 2023.

The CSO emphasises this report cannot be compared with SAVI; this is a stand-alone survey. The definitions and much else  are different.

Sentences or paragraphs in quotation marks are taken from the CSO survey.

“As part of the initial stages of building expertise on the survey topic, international approaches to data collection on sexual violence were appraised by the CSO”. They then comment:

“Where there was little information on data collection specifically on sexual violence, related topics which could be deemed as sensitive were examined instead, for example, violence against women, domestic violence and gender-based violence.”

Comment: The CSO does not appear to have consulted the PASK report on domestic violence, the world’s largest domestic violence research data base. Nor, even more inexplicably, does the CSO appear to have consulted the regular NISVS surveys from the US which contain very detailed information on sexual abuse of which more below.

A very general comment is this. In very sensitive surveys which arouse strong emotions such as on sexual or domestic violence, two perspectives are bound to emerge: the female and the male. A detached observer cannot fail to note the overwhelming disparity between the number of NGOs which represent the two sides, the huge preponderance of those on the female side compared to the few or none on the male side.

“The Sexual Violence Survey or SVS was a newly designed questionnaire which used the 2002 Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) report and the European Gender-based Violence (EU-GBV) survey, as well as other international surveys, as reference points when designing the questions.”

Sexual Violence

Much if not everything depends on how the key term sexual violence is defined.

“Sexual violence is defined in this survey as a range of non-consensual experiences, from non-contact experiences to non-consensual sexual intercourse. The CSO followed international best practice in using this definition of sexual violence, to ensure consistency of treatment in how these experiences were described in Ireland compared with other countries. We consulted widely with key stakeholders, expert groups and with a number of non-governmental organisations which provide support services.”

Did the CSO consult any group representing men here?

This disparity between the two perspectives is further reflected in the commentary from international bodies which is also overwhelmingly on one side and far from objective.

“The international research consulted included the Istanbul convention, the methodological manual for the EU survey on gender-based violence against women and other forms of inter-personal violence (EU-GBV), the Luxembourg Guidelines and relevant research from the United Nations.”

The Istanbul Convention is well known over Europe for its ideological as opposed to empirical basis.

Reference is made throughout to many publications toward which Men’s Voices and men’s groups generally have a very sceptical attitude: UN and WHO data. Neither collects data/information on abuse of men. We asked the Department of Foreign Affairs here for such UN figures last November and got no response.

The methodological manual for the EU-GBV survey currently being conducted in 18 EU countries is referred to by the CSO. It contains this line: “The target population of the EU-GBV survey is defined as people aged 18-74 who live in private households, with a focus on women. Men can be included in the target population by countries willing to do so.”

This is most revealing of a definite ideological slant. It recalls the EU-FRA survey of 2011 when 42,000 women were interviewed but no men.

The Luxembourg Guidelines

Continuing the discussion of this term , the CSO quote the Luxembourg Guidelines where it is discussed on pages 12-16. This is long and confusing, covering a very wide range of behaviours including sexual abuse, sexual harassment, verbal abuse. Violence is said to be more than physical and includes psychological abuse.

The impression one leaves with is one of bewilderment. It recalls once again the absolute need for a scientific approach around clarity of terms such as adopted by the NISVS survey in the US. This survey covers sexual abuse and makes clear distinctions between the different types. Five types of sexual abuse are measured by the NISVS, including sexual coercion and unwanted sexual contact. Yet in the CSO survey unwanted sexual contact is included under the umbrella term sexual violence. Why not simply leave it at non-consensual sexual touching as a stand-alone category just as the NISVS survey does? We note further that this was a component  included in the questionnaire.

In the Luxembourg Guidelines under section B Terminology we read: The notion of “sexual violence” has been used mainly when referring to adults, often in relation to gender-based violence and in the public health discourse, and is often associated with rape.

We agree particularly with the last phrase and since rape is such a serious offence, this can only lead to serious confusion and misunderstanding.

While the Luxembourg Guidelines apply to abuse of children, the CSO appears to us to apply the definition there to abuse of adults.

The term sexual abuse is used by the Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as in the original SAVI survey; but this useful term seems to have been subsumed under the umbrella term  sexual violence and is not used, a mistake in our view since umbrella terms can lead to much confusion in this sensitive area.

Two Key Findings

The importance of appropriate choice of terminology is most apparent when members of the public see a key finding like: “The proportion of adults who experienced sexual violence in their lifetime was 40%, with higher levels for women (52%) compared with men (28%).”  A majority are  likely to conclude this was sexual assault.

Although the CSO make clear this survey is not comparable with SAVI, the public and the media are likely to compare the lifetime rape figure of 10%  for women in 2002 with that of 21% for 2023 and conclude that things are now twice as bad. But this would be misleading since the definitions have changed largely due to the Sexual Offences Act of 2017. This introduced the Consent clauses which we argue  widened the definition of rape. Remarkably, in these clauses, silence does not imply consent, another reminder that those who drafted the law were acting for the interests of one gender only.

Associated with this are the many grey areas which arise in the context of much alcohol consumption by both parties where misunderstandings are likely to arise, a common occurrence today. One scenario is where women are unable to remember what happened  the following day but doubt they gave consent whereas it often happens they did signal this, alcohol being a well-known disinhibitor. The man may say there was consent but he is now in a precarious position since the law holds him responsible for his behaviour but not the woman, again an utterly asymmetrical attitude.

The CSO worked with a range of stakeholders in Ireland…which included: Liaison Groups with the Department of Justice and the Non-Governmental Organisation support service community.

All of these cater exclusively or preponderantly for women, there are no male NGOs, a clear distorting effect.

It must be remembered that men’s groups have had little or no input into the formulation of laws governing all aspects of sexual abuse, domestic abuse or into the definitions of key terms such as rape which carry very heavy sentences. To guarantee justice and to determine when grievous offences have been committed, it is essential that the experiences and perspective of both sides be heard and weighed. This has not happened to our knowledge in the formulation of documents such as the Istanbul Convention.





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