One in four people believe women who have been raped are partly to blame for the crime because of how they dressed, their sexual history or how much they had to drink

An Irish Examiner/Red C national opinion poll on people’s attitudes to sex crimes found a core section of our society think rape victims are totally or partially responsible for being attacked.

It found:

* More than 30% think a victim is some way responsible if she flirts with a man or fails to say no clearly.

* 10% of people think the victim is entirely at fault if she has had a number of sexual partners.

* 37% think a woman who flirts extensively is at least complicit, if not completely in the wrong, if she is the victim of a sex crime.

* One in three think a woman is either partly or fully to blame if she wears revealing clothes.

* 38% believe a woman must share some of the blame if she walks through a deserted area.

The results also show that defence barristers, looking to swing the deciding three members in every 12-person jury, can exploit misgivings in certain demographics about the perceived responsibility of female victims.

Dramatic differences in empathy towards victims based on age and social class are revealed. Gender, however, had little impact.

In every category, widowed, divorced and separated people took the harshest view on the role of the female victim, compared with married or cohabiting couples.

The results of the poll support the results of the ground-breaking Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) report in 2002, which found 15% of the population believed a raped woman was not an innocent victim.

The SAVI report, which was published in partnership with the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, also found 6% of women were raped at some point as adults.

Only a fraction reported the crime, as they feared they would be blamed or their claims would not be believed.

Chief executive of the DRCC Ellen O’Malley Dunlop said the findings of the Irish Examiner poll justified victims’ reluctance to come forward and further explained why less than 10% of rape allegations lead to a conviction.

“By its very nature rape means there is no consent involved, so the perpetrator is fully responsible. Just because a woman is in a situation where she is vulnerable it does not mean she is in any way to blame if she is raped,” she said.

Ms O’Malley Dunlop said although the SAVI report used broader definitions, she had hoped attitudes to sex crime were improving since 2002.

The Irish Examiner/Red C poll provided some hope in this regard because younger people were far less likely to say a female rape victim was accountable if she acted in a certain way.

Responding to the Irish Examiner survey, Amnesty International said the Government has a responsibility to focus on the formal education system in order to change attitudes.

Cliona Saidlear, policy officer at Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI), said Ireland had the lowest conviction rates for rape in Europe and people needed to understand their attitudes to sex crimes were contributing to the problem.

“We as a society need to have this discussion. It is not just about what other people can do, these are attitudes we can change ourselves because this is not acceptable. If people are thinking somehow because you are drunk or wear certain clothes you are inviting rape then it makes it even harder for a woman to report what happened. You can see this in the massive levels of under-reporting by the victims of rape.”

She said it was too easy for people to sit back and say others need to change their attitudes without taking a critical look at themselves.

“We have to look at what we think, and our own attitudes. We in the RCNI are calling for reform of the legal system and that is badly needed. We also are looking at how the education system can help and that needs to be looked at.

“But we cannot leave this to sex education classes or changes in the law. This is about how we behave ourselves and if we continue to blame people for a crime committed on them then we will never overcome this problem,” said Ms Saidlear.

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