Research shows most people believe Ireland has problem with consent

20 October 2021


Most people in Ireland believe that there is a problem with consent, according to new research commissioned by Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC).

‘Real Consent in 'is the first national study of its kind and examines attitudes to and understanding of sexual consent in Ireland across all adult age groups. DRCC shared the findings in an online event Wednesday afternoon and also announced a new national project aimed at making consent a national topic of conversation.

DRCC Chairperson Anne-Marie Gill said “We in Dublin Rape Crisis Centre have long believed there is a problem with consent in Ireland. This research confirms that that most people – 70% - agree with us.  While as a people, we understand the theory of consent, it is not always so clear that this translates to practical understanding.”

The research suggests multiple factors contributing to our problem with consent including the belief that consent can be ignored and lack of understanding around the right to withdraw consent. There are inhibitions around talking about sex candidly and clearly among all age groups, people are unclear about their own sexual likes and dislikes and a quarter are unsure about partner preferences.  People lack the confidence to stop an encounter when uncomfortable. 

There are many positive indicators: The vast majority (9-in-10 women and 8-in-10 men) agree that everyone has the right to change their mind at any point during sex.   An overwhelming 84% believe we need age-appropriate sex education in all schools, with 60% saying all society is responsible for consent and need Government action.  However, the research also showed that significant minorities think that having had sex previously, flirting or not clearly objecting all signify willingness to engage in sex.

DRCC Chief Executive Noeline Blackwell welcomed the new data, saying “What is also very striking is that the majority of those surveyed recognised the link between equality and consent. Almost three-quarters of them agreed that a better understanding of consent will help equality between women and men, which really gives a strong direction for our work.”

According to Ms Blackwell, “These findings tell us a lot about what people in Ireland understand by consent. DRCC wants to prevent the harm that sexual violence does in our society and we want to have a strong base of evidence for that work. So this research is a starting point from which we, as a society, can tackle consent and begin to talk about it a lot more.

“We believe that Real Consent In Ireland shows that most people want a country where consent is understood, and where nobody believes that sexual activity without consent is OK. DRCC’s project will see conversations about consent being had in homes, workplaces, clubs and pubs. We want to see conversations about consent being totally normal. This is a long-term initiative where we will work with survivors, individuals and communities across the country, to help us better understand consent and its importance and how to shape our society towards one that does not tolerate sexual violence and sexual coercion,” concluded Ms Blackwell.


Notes for editors:  

  1. Summary presentations of the Real Consent in Ireland research are available:
    - Real consent in Ireland presentation of research by Adam May, Karen Hand & David Cullen
    - Role of consent in healthy sexual encounters - qualitative research by Dr Karen Hand.
  2. Language, in conjunction with the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, undertook this research in the Republic of Ireland to gauge the public’s attitudes to sex and sexual behaviours with a specific focus on consent. Qualitative research was conducted by Karen Hand and quantitative polling was conducted by Opinions. As part of this work, a national representative sample of 1,004 adults completed a survey in September 2021. The research was supported by funding from the Community Foundation of Ireland.
  3. DRCC will lead a collaborative campaign, grounded in equality, leading to a deeper understanding of consent, the impact of gender inequality on sexual violence and the impact of sexual violence on survivors and their communities. The DRCC campaign takes a human rights perspective, and will be championed and informed by survivors.
  4. Dublin Rape Crisis Centre is a non-governmental, voluntary organisation which has as its mission to prevent the harm and heal the trauma of rape. It offers a suite of services to victims/survivors of sexual violence.  
  5. DRCC operates the National 24-hour Helpline 1800 778888 to support anyone affected by sexual violence in any part of the country.
  6. DRCC offers counselling & therapy to clients and provides accompaniment to the Rotunda Sexual Assault Treatment Unit, to court or to Garda stations to people in Dublin and in surrounding areas by arrangement.   
  7. We have outreach offices at Coolock, Dóchas Women’s Centre, Balbriggan & Tallaght. Access to these services must be arranged via the National Helpline 1800 778888 during working hours, Mon-Fri.   
  8. We ask that when reporting on this topic, journalists should remember that discussions on sexual violence can trigger personal trauma in those receiving the information. Where possible, please make reference to the National 24-hour Helpline 1800 77 88 88 for anyone who may be affected by the discussion.  
  9. Dublin Rape Crisis Centre is one of the frontline services engaged with the Department of Justice & Equality on its #StillHere campaign. The website contains information on supports and services for people affected by domestic violence including sexual violence, as well as digital & online safety and courts, legal aid and advice.