The number of assaults and incidents of sexual violence reported to An Garda Síochána has increased, according to the latest crime statistics.
Reported sexual offences alone saw a rise of 8.2 per cent – from 2,126 in the year to March, 2015 to 2,301 for the same period this year.
A wider category of “attempts or threats to murder, assault, harassments and related offences” climbed by almost 7 per cent.
While such statistics are open to interpretation and may be influenced by people’s greater willingness to report assaults on the person than in the past, they will do nothing to allay fears about the risk of random attacks.
Central Statistics Office
(CSO), which collates reported crimes, cites “an increase in assaults causing harm and other assault offences” but there is no breakdown of the circumstances of such cases.
Nor is there any insight into which individual offences could have been prevented or mitigated with the use of self-defence, something which many people are turning to in response to the risk of attack.
Alexander Walsh, a former UK police officer whose company Personal Safety Ireland (PSI) gives awareness and defence training to transition-year students and companies, says the most vulnerable group are young men between 16 and 22, while sexual offences are also a big issue in universities.
“Anyone can defend themselves against anyone, that’s the first thing,” he says. “It teaches you to respect yourself and how to behave and carry yourself and in your back pocket you have some tricks that can get you out of trouble.”
While PSI believes it is firstly about avoiding confrontation, physical self-defence techniques can be an important last resort.
Averil Power, the former senator recently appointed chief executive of the Asthma Society, was moved to learn self-defence after being followed home from Dublin city late at night a few years ago.
“I was trying to get a taxi and decided to walk home when I couldn’t find one.
“Halfway back, someone started following me and it was sheer luck that a taxi came long. After that, I really wanted to do a course so I could look after myself,” she said.
Ms Power signed up for Krav Maga, the physical training regime originally developed by the Israeli Defence Forces.
Through her training, she learned to be more aware of her environment and how to “change the dynamic” if someone attacked her on the street.
“They’re looking for an easy victim. Even by fighting back a little you need to make the attacker feel this person isn’t worth the hassle.
“You’re just trying to get out of that situation as quickly as possible; you’re not looking for a fight,” she said.
“Every woman should know how to defend herself. I now feel more aware and know what to look for. I hope I never have to use the skills but I believe it’s the most important course I’ve ever done.”
A more detailed breakdown of recent statistics showed a 6.2 per cent rise in “assault causing harm” (3,459 reported incidents) and a 10.3 per cent rise in “other assaults”, but such broadly defined figures don’t necessarily relate to defendable attacks.
In terms of sexual violence, reported rape offences increased by 3.8 per cent and aggravated sexual assaults by 12.5 per cent.
The Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) believes the question of self-defence is somewhat misplaced when it comes to sexual violence.
Its 2014 annual report showed 93 per cent of perpetrators were known to the person they abused, while strangers – including those involved in random street attacks – are comparatively few, especially in the under-18 age group.
“Generally, being streetwise is helpful in all walks of life but the percentage of sexual violence where self-defence is useful is quite low and it certainly won’t prevent sexual violence,” a spokeswoman said.
“Our view is that it can never be a substitute for preventing sexual violence because the danger is that you are putting the responsibility on survivors to stop abuse.”