Drinking culture linked to sexual violence, research finds

Government not doing enough to tackle problem, says Rape Crisis Network

Frances Fitzgerald said Irish people should move away from their ambivalence to drink. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Frances Fitzgerald said Irish people should move away from their ambivalence to drink. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Tue, Jan 28, 2014, 20:27

The Government is failing to prevent rape and sexual violence and is ignoring the role alcohol plays in sexual aggression, according to the Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI).

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald, who opened the seminar, said Irish people “need to move away from our ambivalence to alcohol.”

Fiona Neary, Executive Director of RCNI, agreed with the Minister. “This country has got to stop being complacent about binge drinking and allowing drink companies to target young people with cheap alcohol,” she said.

The RCNI launched two reports on Tuesday, highlighting the role of alcohol in sexual violence, and the lack of information about sexual behaviour amongst “older children” - those over the age of 12.

According to Dr Antonia Abbey, an expert in sexual assault perpetration from Wayne State University, Michigan, alcohol is involved in about 50 per cent of incidences of sexual violence, although it’s not the sole cause. “There are a lot of other risk factors involved including hostility towards women, sexual dominance, and childhood sexual, physical and emotion abuse,” she said.

Pádraig MacNeela, acting head of School of Psychology at NUI Galway, and author of the report into alcohol and sexual violence, said that university students’ attitudes to alcohol affect their understanding of “consent to engage in sexual activity.”

“The underlying issue is there’s a lack of confidence amongst our young people,” said Dr MacNeela. “We found that drunk sex is often the norm, it inspires confidence to approach somebody.”

Participants in the NUIG research revealed they would be too embarrassed to talk openly about using a condom with their partner. The research also found that sexual consent tends to be unspoken and that people have doubts about reporting sexual violence. “They’re not confident gardaí will listen,” said Dr MacNeela, “the prospect of credibility is really frightening for people”.

Dr Clíona Saidléar, speaking about the second report, highlighted the need for the Government to pay more attention to sexual violence amongst older children. “Irish people are reluctant to ask children about their experience of sexual violence,” said Dr Saidléar. “No child born after 1983 has had their experience of sexual abuse measured,” she added.

Dr Saidléar called on the Government to review the Irish child protection infrastructure. “As older children move into a more sexualised world we need to have the tools to work with them,” she said. “We need an explicit zero tolerance of sexual violence.”

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has invited the RCNI to submit the documents to the new National Children’s Framework so they can “take on board some of the recommendations”. Ms Fitzgerald also called on the Department of Education to respond to the research findings.