Most rape victims don’t report because they know the perpetrators

Victims often subjected to ‘mind games’ by their attacker, says campaigner Mary Crilly

The fact that most rape and sexual assault victims are attacked by people they know is most likely the reason that the majority of people still don’t report these offences to the Garda, a leading campaigner has said.

Mary Crilly, chief executive officer of the Sexual Violence Centre Cork, told The Irish Times that victims are often subjected to "mind games" by their attacker.

“I think the main reason people don’t report their rape to the gardaí is because they are raped by somebody they know. There are other factors: they might have drink taken, they feel they may not be believed, or the perpetrator may be playing head games with them, saying ‘I didn’t mean it’.

“And they also know the legal system doesn’t work for victims – they might be waiting two or three years for court and then the perpetrator may not be found guilty. There are a number of reasons but I think the main one is that the perpetrator is somebody that they know.”


Ms Crilly was commenting in the wake of the Sexual Violence Centre Cork 2020 annual report which found that almost nine out of 10 victims of of rape or sexual assault – some 86.8 per cent – knew the perpetrator, while only 13.2 per cent were raped or sexually assaulted by a stranger.


The report also found that only one third of survivors – 33.2 per cent – reported the attack to An Garda Síochána while some 66.8 per cent of those contacting the Sexual Violence Centre Cork did not report the matter to the Garda, the 2020 annual report revealed.

Ms Crilly said that very often the survivor doesn’t report the matter to gardaí because they were concerned that it would have a hugely damaging effect on their own family life, causing huge upset to a parent or sibling even when the assailant was not a relative.

“I don’t know how often I’ve heard ‘it would kill my mother or my father if they knew’ or young girls saying ‘my family have an awful lot going on at the moment and I can’t do this to them’, as if it were their fault.

“It’s awful because some of them are living at home and they have a great relationship with their fathers but they are afraid that he will look at them differently if he knows this – not that he would judge them, but they fear he would be heartbroken, so they won’t report.”

Ms Crilly acknowledged that just one third of people reporting rape or sexual assault to gardaí was too low but she believes that survivors are becoming more willing to report offences, with the trajectory moving in the right direction, albeit relatively slowly.

“The rate of reporting used to be one in four, so it used to be a lot lower, so I am encouraged that more people who are contacting us are going on to report it to gardaí but it is still too low. For such a horrific crime, the figures are still too low.”

Protective services

Ms Crilly welcomed the establishment of Garda protective services units in both north Cork and west Cork to join with the existing unit in Cork city, all of which have helped in facilitating people to report rape and sexual assaults to the Garda.

“Both the new units in the county and the existing one in the city have really helped us in terms of sending people somewhere to report a rape or a sexual assault when people aren’t sure about reporting, but somebody in protective services will meet them and go through it with them first.

“I think it’s making a huge difference because people now feel ‘I’m being taken seriously and I’m meeting somebody within the guards who is experienced in dealing with these offences’, and the fact there are now units in the county as well as the city is very welcome and making a huge difference.”

According to the Sexual Violence Centre Cork report, some 90.3 per cent of people contacting the centre in 2020 were women, with men accounting for 9.7 per cent. Men made up 99.2 per cent of reported perpetrators, while women were responsible for just 0.8 per cent of reported sexual assaults.

Adult victims

Some 73.6 per cent of clients were adult victims of sexual assault while another 18.9 per cent were adult survivors of child sexual abuse, with 18-24 year olds accounting for 29.4 per cent, 25-29 year olds accounting for 14.6 per cent, 30-39 year olds accounting for 19.8 per cent and 40-49 year olds accounting for 18.1 per cent.

The report also revealed that the centre received a total of 2,883 calls and texts – down from 3,469 calls in 2019 – and posited that this was most likely due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on survivors’ ability to access support, with some 63 per cent of calls and texts coming directly from clients.

And it also posited that the Covid-19 pandemic may have meant that many survivors felt they were unable to access the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit at the South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital as the numbers supported by the centre who accessed the unit were down from 197 in 2019 to 28 in 2020.

Sexual Violence Centre Cork chairperson Catherine O’Sullivan said that the shift to counselling online and by phone due to Covid-19 was initially difficult but both forms of accessing the centre have proven effective and both will be added to the suite of options offered to clients in the future.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times