Female rape victims in Ireland almost treble that of EU counterparts

Investigation by Noteworthy and European colleagues shows Ireland ranking among highest number of reported rapes in 2022.

Published On: March 12th, 2024
Article 1 TML – Not One More

‘Not One More’ / Credit: NurPhoto SRL/Alamy Stock Photo

The number of female rape victims in Ireland is almost three times higher than the EU country average, new research by Noteworthy and the European Data Journalism Network (EDJNet) has found.

Staggering statistics reveal how in 2022 alone, the average number of women reporting rape in Ireland stood at 34 per 100,000 of the female population – significantly higher than the average of almost 12 per 100,000 across the six countries with data available.

From 2012 to 2022, there has been an average of 25 female rape victims per 100,000 women in Ireland per year – the sixth highest in Europe.

This equates to 6,683 women in Ireland reporting that they were raped to the gardaí during that period. Reports have risen from over 400 a decade ago to over 800 in recent years. In 2022, 869 women were recorded as victims of rape.

The figures, obtained by Noteworthy as part of the EDJNet investigation into violence against women across Europe, also reveal how sexual assault victims have increased almost every year in Ireland since 2012.

Commenting on the findings, Mary McDermott, CEO of Safe Ireland, told Noteworthy that “we have a large-scale problem” when it comes to violence against women in Ireland.

“How to deal with it is the issue,” she said.

We put these increases to the Department of Justice but did not receive a response until a number of hours after the publication of this article. A spokesperson said that “rape and other serious sexual assaults have traditionally been significantly underreported”.

They referred to last year’s Sexual Violence Survey by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) which found that “only 5% of those that experience sexual violence as an adult have reported it to the police”. This was 12% of those who experienced this crime as a child.

“In that context, increased rates of reporting of rape and sexual assault to An Garda Síochána should be welcomed. These trends suggest growing public confidence on the part of victims of sexual violence in reporting their experiences to An Garda Síochána.”

Rape figures could be higher

The comprehensive data compiled by EDJNet shows the highest number of rape victims in Europe were recorded in Scandinavia, with Sweden averaging 135 victims per 100,000 women between 2012 and 2022.

This was followed by Denmark (45), Finland (41), France (38), Austria (30), Ireland (25) and Germany (20) over the same period.

Researchers on the investigative team say the “extremely high number” of rape victims in Sweden can be explained by recent changes to the country’s definition of rape, where non-consensual sexual contact, such as acts committed against someone in “a state of fear or unconsciousness”, are now included.

The range of the average number per country depends on data availability, methodology of data collection by respective authorities and definition of rape. Due to these variables, countries cannot be directly compared to each other.

In terms of the number of yearly rapes recorded across Europe, 2021 saw the highest number on record, where over 61,000 attacks were reported to authorities.

However, researchers say the number could be higher due to “huge” differences in how some countries define rape.

They also said there is a “significant probability” of rape cases being under-reported by police in each of the 28 countries from where data was analysed.

After publication, in addition to traditional underreporting in Ireland, the DOJ spokesperson referred to the government’s Zero Tolerance Strategy, launched in 2022, and said:

“The increase in the number of incidents recorded may be reflective of the positive impact the Strategy” in supporting victims and on societal attitudes “rather than demonstrating an underlying increase in incidents”.

They added that it is a priority for government to create “a criminal justice system that supports and protects victims at every stage of their journey through it – including the reporting stage”.

Just six countries were able to provide data on sex attacks for 2022 – Czechia, Greece, Ireland, Poland, Slovakia, and Spain.

In total, these regions recorded 19,735 victims – 13,205 of sexual assault and 6,530 of rape.

That meant there was an average of 12 female rape victims per 100,000 women, according to the data.

Ireland was highest of the six countries with records, with 34 rape victims per 100,000 in 2022. This was followed by Spain (18), Czechia (9), Greece (6), Poland (3) and Slovakia (2).

Limited data for 2023, shows over 500 victims from two countries – Czechia and Slovakia.

Over 68,000 rape victims were recorded across Europe between 2021 and 2023, with over 116,000 victims of sexual assault.

Overstretched support structures for women

Safe Ireland’s McDermott said there is an issue of rates of reporting to the gardaí versus the actual rates of assault.

“But, fundamentally, constantly describing the problem, whether via pornographic or prevalence details can be a distraction.”

She said that “coherent infrastructures to enable those assaulted in any way to escape coercion and access the supports they need immediately” were urgently necessary.

As part of the European data project, Noteworthy examined these supports.

As of the end of September 2023, the number of specialist domestic violence accommodation units/family spaces nationwide is 199, which includes 150 refuge units and 49 safe home units.

However, the overstretched women’s shelters have, year-on-year, increasingly turned away thousands of requests for emergency accommodation.

The Zero Tolerance Strategy aims to increase refuge accommodation to 282 units by 2026.

Ongoing need for better data

Dr Clíona Saidléar, executive director of the Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI), said that while there are “significant gaps” in sexual violence data, there has been “significant advances” in the last five years.

Referencing the CSO’s Sexual Violence Survey, she told Noteworthy the office is now working on EU comparable data to improve efforts in protecting and supporting women victims of violence.

Saidléar said this was in “the early stages”, emphasising that until “good comparable” data was developed, statistics will continue “hiding a lot underneath”.

The 2023 CSO survey has found that four times more women (21%) than men (5%) reported experiencing non-consensual sexual intercourse over their lifetime.

The survey also revealed that the majority of adults (78%) who experienced sexual violence at least once in their lifetime knew the perpetrator, with very little difference between women (79%) and men (75%).

The proportion of adults who experienced sexual violence in their lifetime was 40%, with higher levels for women (52%) compared with men (28%).

First of its kind directive introduced

Last month, the EU reached an agreement on a long-awaited directive to combat violence against women.

The directive is the first of its kind and instructs member states to introduce legislation to combat acts such as female genital mutilation, forced marriage, the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, and much more.

The legislation has been the main priority for Fine Gael MEP Frances Fitzgerald, who was one of the lead negotiators of the law. She welcomed the agreement but said she was “bitterly disappointed” that “Member States failed in their responsibilities to protect women by refusing to include the most heinous crime of rape based on lack of consent”.

When asked about this by our investigative partners MIIR, Swedish MEP Evin Incir, the European Parliament’s co-chief rapporteur on gender-based violence, said “the concept of ‘rape’ is highly debated due to deep-rooted patriarchal norms in society”.

“Looking ahead, we anticipate the European Commission to propose new legislation specifically addressing rape,” she added.

Gardaí ‘unwavering’ in fight against female violence

Noteworthy also approached the gardaí with our latest European findings on sexual assault and rape. We asked what it is doing to tackle the increasing rates of sexual attacks as well as the high rate of reported rape compared to other EU member states.

At the time of publication, no response was received.

However, speaking on the publication of the Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence report last year, Detective Chief Superintendent Colm Noonan said An Garda Síochána had an “unwavering” commitment to supporting victims of domestic, sexual and gender based violence.

“In recent years this has seen An Garda Síochána introduce a number of measures including Operation Faoiseamh, Divisional Protective Service Units, a strong focus on call-backs to victims of domestic abuse, and increased training for Gardaí (police) in this area,” he said.

“As a society, there has been a hugely positive sea change in how we view, understand and tolerate domestic abuse in our homes and in our communities, and how absolutely unacceptable it now is.”

Noonan said that by fully exposing these crimes, constantly improving policing response and wider policies, “the prevalence of domestic abuse in our society” can be reduced.

Original source: https://www.thejournal.ie/femicides-across-europe-rape-and-sexual-assault-6319857-Mar2024/

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