Sex crimes in Ireland: Why are they rising to record levels each year?

Cultural and societal changes seen as encouraging more victims to come forward

The number of sexual offences being reported to the Garda is very much on the rise at a time when many crime types have posted modest increases and others, such as burglary, are close to an all-time low.

Last year saw the number of sex crimes reported reach a record level. And the scenario was the same in 2017 and in 2016; a level of sexual offences was recorded in each of those years that Ireland had never seen before.

Determining why the trend is rising relentlessly is not an exact science, but the Garda and all other parts of the criminal justice system that deal with sex crime cases are coming under pressure as a result.

In 2018, there were 3,182 sex crimes recorded by the Garda, up 26 per cent in the last two years alone and double the number of such crimes being recorded annually a decade ago.


Usually sex crimes are chronically under-reported, so why the increase now?

Garda sources pointed out that improvements had been made in the way crimes were being counted and classified.

They believed some of the recent increases may be attributable to better record keeping on the part of the Garda.

Raw data

On a related point, the Central Statistics Office (CSO), which publishes the Garda's crime data, still has concerns over the accuracy of the raw crime data being supplied to it by the Garda.

At present the CSO publishes quarterly and annual crime data “under reservation” – effectively warning the public that the figures carry a health warning.

However, Rape Crisis Network Ireland's executive director Cliona Sadlier said the scale of the increase in reported sex crime suggested cultural and societal changes were now encouraging more victims to come forward.

She believed the #MeToo movement had helped empower some victims to name and report sex crimes. She also felt events such as the marriage equality referendum and the abortion referendum had resulted in Ireland “having prolonged open conversations about very difficult issues”.

The social changes had created a country in which victims felt better able to report harm done to them to the Garda, she said.

The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre said other factors may also include a greater focus on consent on recent years, and changes to Irish criminal law to define consent.

No research has been done that can pinpoint why more victims than ever are now coming forward.

However, a study on the prevalence of sexual offending is planned by the Department of Justice. It will interview members of the public in a bid to determine the true rate of sexual offending, rather than relying on the Garda’s data.

The Garda figures only capture crimes reported by victims. Many experts working in the sexual violence area believe only about 10 per cent of sexual offending is ever reported to the Garda.

Ms Sadlier said her organisation is also concerned that more and more teenage boys are being influenced by pornography and that more sex crimes are being committed by children.

However, she stressed research was required in that area.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times