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About Rape & Sexual Violence

What is Sexual Violence?

Many people in our society hold false ideas about sexual violence. Too often, blame for rape is shifted from the offender to the victim. The reality is that sexual violence can be hard to talk about. Many men, women and children are silenced and unsupported.

There are many types of sexual violence. Not all include physical contact between the victim and the perpetrator (person who harms someone else). The range of sexual violence includes:

  • Rape
  • Sexual Assault
  • Incest
  • Sexual Exploitation
  • Unwanted or Inappropriate Sexual Contact
  • Sexual Harassment
  • Exposure
  • Threats
  • Stalking/Cyberstalking
  • Peeping

Sexual Violence is a crime. It is motivated by the need to control, humiliate, or harm. It is not motivated by uncontrollable sexual desire. Perpetrators of sexual violence use sex as a weapon to dominate and hurt others. Most survivors of sexual violence knew their perpetrators before the assault.

What is rape?

Forced or coerced oral, vaginal or anal sex

Forced or coerced masturbation

Penetration with objects

Across-gender or same-gender sexual abuse e.g. female-on-male, male-on-male, female-on-female, male-on-female

False Beliefs about Rape

  • If a person did not physically resist or say no then it wasn’t rape
  • Rape would not happen if people did not dress seductively.
  • Only young, attractive people are sexually assaulted.
  • Only strangers rape.
  • A person cannot be raped by their spouse or partner.
  • It wasn’t really rape if the survivor was drinking, it was just regretful sex.


Truths about Rape

  • Sometimes resisting can prevent sexual assault, but it can also make it more dangerous and increase physical violence.
  • The way people dress has very little to do with who is assaulted.
  • All people are at some risk, young or old.
  • Relatives and friends are just as capable of rape. Most people know their attacker.
  • A person can be raped by their spouse or partner. Everyone has a right to say “no” and the law recognises this right.
  • Drinking doesn’t cause rape. Perpetrators do.
  • Rape is the misuse and abuse of power. Rape is a crime which may take away your dignity and self-determination. Rape may have profound and long-term effects on your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being.

Was I raped?

So, how can you figure if what happened was rape? These questions might help you access what happened…

Were the participants old enough to consent?

The minimum age of consent in Ireland is 17yrs.People below this age are considered children and cannot legally agree to have sex. In other words, even if the child or teenager says yes, the law says no.

Did both people have the capacity to consent?

Those with diminished capacity — for example, some people with learning or physical  disabilities, some elderly people and people who have been drugged or are unconscious — may not have the legal ability to agree to have sex.

Did both participants agree to take part?

Did someone use physical force to make you have sexual contact with him/her? Has someone threatened you to make you have intercourse with them? If so, it is rape.

It doesn’t matter if you think your partner means yes, or if you’ve already started having sex — “No” also means “Stop.” If you proceed despite your partner’s expressed instruction to stop, you have not only violated basic codes of morality and decency, you may have also committed a crime under the law.

I didn’t resist physically – does that mean it isn’t rape?

People respond to an assault in different ways. Just because you didn’t resist physically doesn’t mean it wasn’t rape — in fact, many victims make the good judgment that physical resistance would cause the attacker to become more violent. Lack of consent can be expressed (saying “no”) or it can be implied from the circumstances (for example, if you were under the statutory age of consent, or if you had a mental defect, or if you were afraid to object because the perpetrator threatened you with serious physical injury).

I used to date the person who assaulted me – does that mean it isn’t rape?

Rape can occur when the offender and the victim have a pre-existing relationship, however slight (sometimes called “date rape” or “acquaintance rape”), or even when the offender is the victim’s spouse. It does not matter whether the other person is an ex-boyfriend or a complete stranger, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve had sex in the past. If it is nonconsensual this time, it is rape.

I don’t remember the assault – does that mean it isn’t rape?

Just because you don’t remember being assaulted doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t happen and that it wasn’t rape. Memory loss can result from the ingestion of drugs and alcohol.

I was asleep or unconscious when it happened – does that mean it isn’t rape?

Rape can happen when the victim was unconscious or asleep. If you were asleep or unconscious, then you didn’t give consent. And if you didn’t give consent, then it is rape.

I was drunk or they were drunk – does that mean it isn’t rape?

Alcohol and drugs are not an excuse – or an alibi. The key question is still: did you consent or not? Regardless of whether you were drunk or sober, if the sex is nonconsensual, it is rape. Both people must be conscious and willing participants.)

I thought “no,” but didn’t say it. Is it still rape?

It depends on the circumstances. If you didn’t say no because you were legitimately scared for your life or safety, then it would likely be considered rape. Sometimes it isn’t safe to resist, physically or verbally. Other times you may just loose you voice, your ability to protest . You may feel violated and hurt and perhaps need help to determine what stopped you saying “No” .

Effects of Rape


These are some of the feelings you may experience:


  • Disbelief at what has happened
  • Numbness, the event may seem unreal, like a dream
  • Shaking, crying, laughing
  • Slow comprehension of what has happened
  • May occur immediately, or sometime later


  • Of a recurrence of the event
  • Of damage to oneself, or of death
  • Awareness of personal vulnerability
  • Panicky, irrational feelings
  • Other, apparently unrelated, fears
  • That others will blame or reject you, or may not believe you


  • At the rapist
  • Perhaps at yourself or others for “allowing it to happen”
  • At your feelings of powerlessness
  • At the unfairness and senselessness of it all; generalised anger and hostility may be directed towards all men


  • Feeling that there is something basically wrong with you, that you somehow deserved what happened
  • For not having reacted as you would have wished


  • Feelings of powerlessness and being out of control of your life
  • Inability to make any decisions


  • Feeling responsible, a long list of “if only”


  • For the loss of the belief that the world is safe and predictable
  • About human destruction and loss of every kind
  • For loss of the life you had before the rape changed everything


These are some of the common effects on behaviour that can be expressed in many ways and in various combinations:


  • More easily startled, general agitation (physical and/or mental)

Sleep Disturbances

  • Inability to sleep, thoughts that prevent sleep, replaying the event
  • Wanting to sleep all the time
  • Dreams/nightmares of the rape, or other vivid and frightening events


  • Of the place, reminders of the incident
  • Of men, or even people generally
  • Of going out of your own home
  • Of being alone

Intrusive Memories and Feelings

  • Flashbacks which interfere with concentration and daily life
  • Attempts to shut them out which leads to deadening of feelings and thoughts


  • Frequent mood swings


  • Loss of interest in life, a sense of meaninglessness
  • Lethargy

Social Withdrawal

  • Wanting to be alone
  • A reluctance to talk or associate with anyone

What is child abuse?

Sexual abuse is an inappropriate sexual behaviour towards a child. Child Sexual Abuse occurs when a child under 16 years of age is used by an adult or older child in a sexual way. The abuser is usually someone 3 or more years older or physically more developed than the survivor. It can be an older child.

Sexual Abuse can be non-contact abuse (e.g., exposure to pornography, inappropriate comments  exhibitionism , voyeurism) or contact abuse (e.g., genital/anal fondling, oral sex). This may include: touching genitals; penetration of the genitals with fingers, penis or objects; rape; tongue kissing; genital exposure; the viewing of pornographic videos; and/or coercion into nudity and masturbation for the adult’s gratification.

Sexual Play between children of the same age is not likely to be harmful because of the children’s equal power and development.

How does the child feel about the abuse?

A child may immediately have misgivings or a feeling of repulsion when the abuse begins. In other cases, initially the abuse may not be frightening at the time. It is often portrayed by the abuser as a “secret” or “game”.

The child often does not realise the inappropriateness of the behaviour. The child may participate willingly because it fills their need for:  attention (special), love, physical contact, and at times the abuse may be pleasurable.

Initially the offender seldom uses threats and physical forces, because, physical harm leaves visible evidence that could lead to discovery the offender is someone the child has been taught to trust children are taught to be obedient and that adults know what is best for them. If a child realises the inappropriateness of the abuse, the child may feel:

betrayed by the trusted offender, betrayed by the rest of the family who have failed to stop the abuse,guilt and responsibility for letting the abuse go on; they may blame themselves.

Why doesn’t the child end the abuse by telling someone?

There are many reasons why a child may not tell. Some of these include:

  • Often when the child realises that the abuse is wrong, the child may start to resist the abuser. The abuser will then usually begin to use threats and physical force. The threats are usually guilt-laden, with consequences if the child tells.
  • The child may not tell because of their own sense of guilt.
  • The child may not tell because they feel they want to protect their family, especially younger siblings.
  • The child may be embarrassed and not know where to turn.
  • The child may not have the words or have anyone to tell.

Effects of Child Sexual Abuse

Physical (evident in only a small percentage of cases):

  • presence in the mouth, vagina, or rectum of some type of sexually transmitted disease.
  • anal/oral/genital tissue damage.
  • pregnancy.
  • loodstains on underwear.
  • bruising on genital areas.
  • pain experienced in urination or elimination.


  • eating, sleeping, and bowel/bladder disturbances
  • regressive behaviour (acting like a much younger child e.g., bedwetting)
  • excessive crying
  • excessive masturbatory behaviour in small children
  • irritability, crankiness, short-tempered behaviour
  • too sophisticated knowledge about sexual acts for the child’s age
  • excessive attempts to manipulate the genitals of others
  • school problems e.g., change in behaviour at school
  • phobias, fears
  • secretive behaviour
  • compulsive behaviours (e.g., taking an excessive number of baths)
  • acting-out behaviours (e.g., truancy, running away etc.)
  • promiscuity
  • prostitution
  • alienation from other family members

Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse is such a traumatic violation, that it’s victims often forget that it occurred. But the emotional scars live on, confusing in their seeming meaninglessness. Ongoing problems with relationships, sex, trust, touch, addictions, paralyzing depression, and guilt can, when the cause is unknown, feel crazy and out of control.

Below are some of the ongoing effects of child sexual abuse. These problems are actually desperate attempts to cope with the impossible pain.

  • Fear of being alone in the dark, fear of sleeping alone, nightmares or night terrors (especially of pursuit, threat or entrapment)
  • Alienation from body, not at home in own body, failure to heed signals of body, failure to take care of body, poor body image, manipulating body size to avoid sexual attention
  • Gastrointestinal problems, GYN disorders (including spontaneous vaginal infections), headaches, arthritis or joint pain
  • Eating disorders, drug/ alcohol abuse (or total abstinence), other addictions, compulsive behaviors
  • Skin carving, self abuse (physical pain is manageable), self-destructive
  • Phobias
  • Suicidal thoughts, attempts, obsessions (including passive suicide)
  • Depression (sometimes paralyzing), seemingly baseless crying
  • Anger issues, inability to recognize own or expressed anger, fear of actual or imagined rage, constant anger, intense hostility toward entire gender or ethnic group of the perpetrator
  • Splitting (depersonalization), going into shock, shutdown in a crisis or stressful situation, always in a crisis, psychic numbing, physical pain or numbness associated with a particular memory or emotion (e.g. anger) or situation (e.g. sex)
  • Trust issues, inability to trust (trust is not safe), trusting indiscriminately
  • High risk taking (“daring the fates”), inability to take risks
  • Boundary issues, control, power, territorial issues, fear of losing control, obsessive/compulsive behaviors (attempting to control things that don’t matter just to control something), power/sex confusion
  • Guilt/shame/low self esteem/feeling worthless/high appreciation of small favors by others
  • Pattern of being a victim (victimizing oneself after being victimized by others), especially sexually, no sense of own power or right to set limits or say “no”, patterns of relationships with much older persons (onset in adolescence)
  • Feeling demand to “produce to be loved”, instinctively knowing and doing whatever the other person needs or wants, relationships mean big trade-off’s (“love” was taken, not given)
  • Abandonment issues
  • Blocking out some period of early years (especially 1 – 12) or a specific person or event or place
  • Feeling crazy, feeling different, feeling oneself to be unreal and everyone else to be real or vice versa, creating fantasy worlds, relationships or identities (especially for women: imagining/wishing self to be male i.e. not a victim)
  • Denial, no awareness at all, repression of memories, pretending, minimizing (it wasn’t that bad), having dreams or memories (maybe it’s my imagination – these are actually flashbacks, which is how recall begins), strong, deep, “inappropriate” negative reactions to a person, place or event, sensory flashes (a light, a place, a physical feeling), without any sense of their meaning, remembering surroundings but not the actual event.
  • Sexual Issues
    • Sex feels dirty,
    • Aversion to being touched especially in GYN exams.
    • Strong aversion to (or need for) particular sex acts.
    • Feeling betrayed by one’s body, trouble integrating sexuality and emotionality, confusion or overlapping of affection/sex/dominance/aggression/violence.
    • Having to pursue power in sexual arena, which is actually sexual acting out.
    • Compulsively “seductive” or compulsively asexual.
    • Impersonal “promiscuous” sex with strangers concurrent with inability to have sex in intimate relationships.
    • Sexual addiction.