Tusla - Ireland's Child & Family Agency

What is Sexual Violence?


Sexual violence is any sexual act which takes places without freely given consent or where someone forces or manipulates someone else into unwanted sexual activity. The age of consent in Ireland is 17 years and this is the age at which a person is considered to be legally competent to consent to sexual acts. Consent is defined in the Criminal Law Sexual Offences Act 2017 as freely and voluntarily agreeing to engage in the sexual act. Consent is not present when there is the application, threat or fear of force to the victim or a third party;  when the victim is asleep or unconscious, or incapable of consenting because of the effect of alcohol or other drugs; when the victim is suffering from a physical disability which prevents the victim from communicating regarding their consent; is mistaken as to the nature and purpose of the act; is mistaken as to the identity of any other person involved in the act; is being unlawfully detained; where the only expression or indication of consent or agreement to the act comes from somebody other than the victim.

The internet and social media now enable sexual violence to occur in newer less obvious forms, including producing, collecting or sharing child pornography; sexual harassment or exploitation; exhibitionism and voyeurism and pressurising or manipulating another person to engage in sexual acts against their will.

Sexual violence can be perpetrated by a partner or ex-partner, family member, friend, colleague, acquaintance or a complete stranger. Sexual violence can happen to anyone at any age. 

Common Reactions to Sexual Violence
Immediate Affects – can continue for days/weeks

Shock - unable to talk about the experience
Panic attacks, flashbacks
Feelings of anger, shame and self loathing
Crying a lot, sleep disturbance, nightmares
Withdrawal, appearing frozen – showing no emotion
Physical injuries, bruising, cuts and swelling 


Long Term Affects – can continue indefinitely

Recurring recollections of the experience
Feelings of self blame and guilt
Feeling unsafe even in familiar surroundings
Mood swings of anger, sadness,
Difficulty trusting people even those close to s/he
Difficulty having/maintaining intimate sexual relationships with spouse/partner
Difficulty maintaining everyday life/work
May develop an addiction to drink/drugs/food

Please refer to the section “What is Gender Based Violence” for other forms of violence that is sexually motivated or sexually harmful.  

Types of Violence

Rape, Sexual Assault:

Rape occurs where a person is subjected without consent to an act that involves penetration of the anus or mouth by the penis or penetration of the vagina by any object held or manipulated by another person.

Sexual Assault:

Sexual assault is an act of physical assault that has a sexual aspect or motivation. It includes groping; forcibly kissing someone or any non-consensual sexual activity that does not involve penetration.

Child Sexual Abuse:

Sexual abuse occurs when a child is used by another person for his or her gratification or sexual arousal, or for that of others. In Ireland the age of sexual consent is in fact 17 years and penetrative sexual activity under that age is a crime. An abuser will often “groom” a child, by giving special attention and affection, starting normally but will gradually develop into sexual touching, masturbation, and/or penetration.

Sexual harassment:

Sexual harassment is when a person is subjected to unwanted verbal or physical sexual advances or requests for sexual favours.  It can be associated to the workplace but can happen in any location.

Rape within an intimate relationship

Coercing or manipulating a person to engage in sex against their will, even if that person is a spouse or intimate partner is an act of aggression and violence.  Consent cannot be presumed. Rape and sexual assault can happen within an on-going intimate relationship, both heterosexual and same-sex and many victims may continue living in a situation of sexual violence for a long period of time.

Child Pornography:

Child pornography is produced, marketed shared and collected for the sexual gratification of users. Like much electronic based sexual crime this is a relatively recent and developing form of sexual violence. Prior to inter-net developments in the last 20 years or so access to sexual material on children was relatively rare. As early as the 1980’s there was evidence of films being produced depicting severe sexual and physical violence against children.

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