What is Rape and Sexual Assault?

Rape is a crime. It is a vicious attack of violence, anger and control.

Rape and Sexual assault are unique crimes. They are not just physical assaults - but a violation of Physical, Psychological, Social and Spiritual boundaries. Sexual assault has nothing to do with sex, it is a violent crime. The initial crime can have a long-term emotional and psychological impact. The person is often left holding feelings of shame, guilt and self-blame.

Rape is a crime which is committed predominantly by men mostly against women and girls but also against boys and other men. There can be specific consequences such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HIV infection and pregnancy.

In most cases, the rapist is known to the person. He may be a friend, a workmate, a relative or a partner. Many rapes occur in the person's own home or that of the perpetrator – therefore the crime is often a huge betrayal of trust as the person is raped where he /she considered to be a safe place.

If you have been affected by sexual violence, you can contact the Donegal Sexual Abuse & Rape Crisis Centre for counselling and support.

Our telephone number is free phone 1800 44 88 44.

The Legal Definition of Rape

There are four categories of sexual offences.

Rape: ‘Unlawful sexual intercourse with a woman who, at the time of intercourse, does not consent to it, where the man knows she does not consent… or that he is reckless as to whether she does not consent to it’.

Rape Under Section 4: A sexual assault that includes "penetration (however slight) of the anus or mouth by a penis, or penetration (however slight) of the vagina by any object held or manipulated by another person"

Aggravated Sexual Assault: A sexual attack that involves serious violence or causes grave injury, humiliation or degradation to the victim.

Sexual Assault: A sexual attack with a less serious level of violence Since 1991, a married woman may charge her husband with a sexual offence. A man can now bring a charge of rape under all of the above against an assailant.

Possible effects of Rape

Physical trauma; shock; withdrawal; frozen; panic and confusion; terror; inappropriately calm and rational; irrational behaviour; dwelling on details; recurrent intrusive thoughts; sleeplessness; denial; hypervigilence; or obsessive washing.

Term: Mood swings; self-blame/guilt; shame; fear and anxiety; loss of trust (especially with men); sexual difficulties; development of addictions; depression and flashbacks.

Remember, the crime has been committed against you and it was not your fault

If You Have Been Sexually Assaulted

Tell someone you know and trust what has happened. Alternatively you can contact the centre and we will provide you with a confidential space, information and time for you to decide how you want to proceed. We respect your right to choose whether you want to report the crime or not.

You may wish to take the morning after pill in order to protect against pregnancy, therefore you will need to see a doctor. A medical examination is important to detect injury, and possible protection against STI’s. This is advisable even if you do not wish to report.
If you are able and wish to report the assault to the Gardaí we will provide you with assistance. The Gardaí can arrange for you to visit a doctor or hospital.

With the help of accredited professionals specialising in this area counselling can enable people to reclaim their lives–:

By opening up and talking about the abuse,
By experiencing and expressing their deepest feelings,
By challenging beliefs, assumptions and behaviours,
By gradually making sense out of the chaos.

The process of recovery from rape and sexual abuse will allow the possibility of a full and healthy life. Remember, the crime has been committed against you and it was not your fault. Only you can decide when the time is right for you to talk to somebody.

What is Child Sexual Abuse?

Child sexual abuse is the involvement of a child in sexual activities for the sexual gratification of an adult or someone significantly older or bigger than the child. It is called incest if it happens between family members.

Child sexual abuse should not be confused with normal healthy physical contact. Responsible adults exchange physical contact with a child in a loving manner while maintaining a warm and affectionate relationship.

Who Abuses Children?

Both men and women sexually abuse children but the majority of known perpetrators are men. Perpetrators of abuse appear to be trustworthy people coming from all backgrounds, and are often respected members of society. In the majority of cases, the offender is someone who is known to the child, e.g. parents, relatives, neighbours, friends etc.

The Effects of Sexual Abuse

The effects of sexual abuse can vary greatly from one case to the next and can include a loss of trust, poor self-esteem, a sense of betrayal and confusion in relation to sexuality.

Children often blame themselves for what has happened to them. Because of the level of trust the children have in the adult, it is easy for them to be tricked into sexual activity. Perpetrators know this and take advantage of the vulnerabilities in children. Children may or may not feel what is happening is wrong and are often tricked or coerced into secrecy by the offender.

Secrecy perpetuates abuse

People who have been sexually abused may not talk about what has happened for years and some people may never talk about it. This can leave the person trapped in a place of fear and shame. It protects the abuser and allows them to continue what they are doing.

If you have been affected by sexual violence, you can contact the Donegal Sexual Abuse & Rape Crisis Centre for counselling and support. Our telephone number is free phone 1800 44 88 44.

Who Abuses?

Sexual abuse happens in families of every social and economic background and the perpetrators of the abuse are often in other ways normal, upstanding members of society.

Though women do offend, the majority of known perpetrators are men. The abusers can be parents, grandparents, step-parents, uncles and brothers etc. They are all people with whom the person would have a trusting relationship.

Children are particularly trusting making it easy for them to be tricked into sexual activity. Perpetrators know this and take advantage of these vulnerabilities. Children may or may not feel that what is happening to them is wrong, but are often tricked or convinced into secrecy by the offender.


Loss of trust – it can be difficult for victims who have been abused to trust enough to form close relationships.

They may have low self-esteem and may have difficulty with schoolwork or job performance. Alternatively, they can become super achievers. They can become obsessive about being the best – top of the class, top achiever in the workplace etc.

They can be hyper vigilent – like a frightened deer watching out for predators.
They may bury the memory of the abuse which may then surface years later possibly at some emotional time in their lives e.g. following marriage, the birth of a baby, or even coverage of sexual abuse on a TV programme or in a newspaper.

What Happens?

Sexual abuse can be physical, verbal or emotional and can include the following:

Exposing a child or teenagers to adult sexual activity or pornographic movies or photographs,

Getting a child or teenager to pose, undress or perform in a sexual fashion,

Fondling a child or teenager's genitals or making them fondle the offender’s, or

Actual or attempted penetration of the child or teenager's vagina, mouth or anus, with an object or with the offender's fingers or penis.

Sometimes the effects of abuse can remain with the person for the rest of their lives. They may live with low self-esteem – often with disgust about themselves and what has happened. They may find it extremely hard to trust enough to form a loving relationship. Some people who have been abused can hide it very well from the outside world. They may appear to be living a normal, contented life. In reality, people may live with the impact of abuse for years trying to make sense of what has happened.

If you suspect or know of a child who is being sexually abused, contact the Director of Community Care in your HSE area. A social worker will evaluate the situation and take appropriate action.

What is Incest?

Incest is sexual intercourse or other sexual acts such as fondling, molestation, exhibitionism and sexual abuse, either physical or emotional, when it occurs between family members.

It can affect both males and females and more than one member of the family can be abused. It is not, and should not be confused with, the normal physical affectionate contact which is essential in a loving family relationship.

Children don't tell for various reasons -

fear, threats that they or someone else they love will be harmed if they tell, fear of not being believed or fear of getting a perpetrator whom they love into trouble. Sometimes the only ‘loving’ contact the child has is the abusive contact and they may not want to lose this. Sometimes the young child does not realise that what is occurring is wrong, until later on in life.

The person affected by an incestuous relationship is often afraid to tell because of the disruption and stigma the revelation may cause to the family unit e.g. Daddy may have to live somewhere else or the children may be taken into care. Incest can become the family secret. Incestuous behaviour can carry on from one generation to the next e.g. father abuses daughter and then goes on to abuse granddaughter. Sometimes the entire family may need counselling in order to break the cycle.

Fear perpetuates secrecy, secrecy perpetuates abuse.

They may suffer from flashbacks in which memories of the abuse can surface suddenly, often triggered by a smell or sensation. Flashbacks can be very frightening, but they can be a sign that the trauma is coming to the surface, and hopefully some healing can occur. This is a time when professional support can be valuable.

People who are survivors of sexual abuse are indeed people with a lot of courage, strength and bravery whether they realise it or not. It takes courage to confront what has happened to you and a lot of support is needed while you are doing this. With the help of counselling, people can talk about the abuse and, by experiencing and expressing their deepest feelings, can gradually make sense of the chaos, so that hopefully they can learn to trust and let go of the past so that they may have a full and healthy life.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual Harassment is defined in the 1998 Employment Acts as "unwanted physical intimacy, requests for sexual favours, any other act including spoken words, gestures or the production, display or circulation of written words, pictures or material if the act, request or conduct is unwelcome, and could be reasonably regarded as sexual, otherwise on gender ground, offensive, humiliating or intimidating". [Section 23.3]

In other words, it is behaviour that is unwelcome and is offensive and can have the effect of embarrassing, frightening or hurting someone. It can range from jokes or remarks with sexual overtones, the display of explicit images, requests for sexual favours for job advancement, unwelcome physical contact to actual sexual assault. It can be ongoing and can seriously affect a person's ability to perform their work with dignity.

The Effects of Sexual Harassment

Many people find it difficult to report, often feeling that they are in a powerless position, that they may lose their job or not get a promotion. They fear that they may not be believed or understood. They can suffer from stress related illness, panic attacks, sleep disturbances and poor work performance; and It can make the person's life a misery.

If You Are being Sexually Harassed?

Tell the harasser that their behaviour is unwelcome and ask them to stop.
• Keep a diary of the incidents.
• Report the matter to your employer or someone in authority. According to the Employment Equality Act 1998, employers may be liable for the sexual harassment of the employee by another employee, or by a business contact, client or a customer.
• Get advice from the Equality Authority. If having reported harassment to the employer, the person is still unhappy with the outcome, or if the employer is the person responsible for the harassment and there are no other procedures they can use, legal action can be taken; and
• If you need counselling or support in dealing with this issue you can contact the Donegal Sexual Abuse & Rape Crisis Centre.

An employee should be free to carry out his/her work with dignity and respect.

What Happens Next

The Gardaí will prepare a book of evidence which is sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). The book of evidence contains your statement and the statement of the accused. It also contains documentation of any forensic evidence which has been collected. The Gardaí will keep you informed on the progress of the investigation at regular intervals.

The DPP will examine the Book of Evidence and decides whether or not the case will go to trial. If the DPP decides that there is insufficient evidence to bring a case to trial, this does not mean that your allegations have not been believed, but rather that the case would be unsuccessful due to a lack of evidence. This can be an extremely difficult time.

If the accused pleads guilty before going to trial, the trial will not be necessary and the court will pass sentence. If a trial is necessary, it is held ‘in camera & rsquoy;. This means that the general public is usually not allowed to be in the courtroom. The Judge hearing the case will exclude from the court those individuals who do not need to be there. You may be accompanied by a parent, friend, relative or support worker. The Donegal Sexual Abuse & Rape Crisis Centre can arrange for a support volunteer to accompany you.

Common Excuses

The girl who worked here before never minded
It was just a bit of harmless fun
She/he was asking for it
She/he is too sensitive; and/or
It was a joke
It is not a joke to anyone who is on the receiving end of sexual harassment.

Who is affected by Harassment?

Men and women working in all kinds of jobs can be affected by sexual harassment. It is not confined to any special areas of employment, but can happen anywhere and at any level of employment. In many cases it is the dominance of the more powerful over those seemingly weaker, either professionally or economically. It should be remembered that incidents occurring outside the workplace e.g. at office parties or in the car park etc, may also constitute sexual harassment. It can also consist of one serious incident but it is mostly on-going.

How do I report a sexual offence?
Only you can decide if you are ready to report a Sexual Offence.


Contact your local Garda station as soon as possible. If you have been raped, it is important that you do not change your clothes or wash. This helps to preserve evidence.

You will be interviewed by a member of the Gardaí. A suitable private location in the Garda Station is used for the interview. You will be asked to give a statement with as much detail as possible. This can be difficult but it is important so that as much evidence can be gathered as is necessary to build a case.

The Gardaí will arrange for you to have a medical examination. You will sign your statement. If you remember more details about the assault, supplementary statements can be made at a later date. You are entitled to a copy of your statement, so ask for it.

The Gardaí will interview the accused [if known] and a statement will be taken. The Gardaí can contact the Rape Crisis Centre on your behalf or you may do so yourself.

During the trial, you are a witness for the prosecution and the main source of evidence is your account of the assault. You will be asked questions about the alleged assault and may be cross-examined by the solicitor for the accused. This is indeed a very traumatic time and you will need as much support as possible.

Members of the press who are present can report on the trial but they are not allowed to publish any information that might reveal your identity or the identity of the accused. If the accused is convicted, his/her name and sentence will be published by the media but your name will not. If he/she is related to you, his/her name will not be published except upon your consent.

Counselling is a one-to-one relationship which provides the necessary support and encouragement to enable a person to talk about the experiences which have affected their lives. It is the role of the counsellor to offer a safe and confidential space to enable the person to express themselves whatever way necessary for them to move on in their lives.

How long will I be in Counselling?

The length of time counselling takes varies from person to person. The pace of healing and each person's experience is unique, so the duration of their counselling cannot be predicted. It can vary from a few weeks up to a few years but the majority of people feel some benefits after the first few sessions.

It is always the choice of the individual whether or not they wish to continue with the counselling process. There will always be time to discuss this with their counsellor.

A counselling session lasts for one hour and we offer counselling on a weekly basis.

Are the counsellors trained?

All counselling is provided by professionally accredited and experienced therapists in line with best practice and HSE requirements. Clients of the Donegal Sexual Abuse & Rape Crisis Centre will always see the same counsellor and will be able to develop a trusting relationship with that person.

How much do I have to pay?

The Donegal Sexual Abuse & Rape Crisis Centre provides a professional counselling service, which is free of charge, to both males and females who have experience rape, sexual abuse or any other form of sexual violence.

What can men do to help?

Sexual violence is an issue for both men and women

Men are not immune from sexual violence and often respond, as do many women, by remaining silent and suffering alone.

Most sexual assaults are committed by men. Both male and females suffer the trauma of being raped or sexually abused. This can be physical, emotional and psychological, and can take years to heal.

Men can help by raising awareness about their feelings on sexual violence, and by challenging rape supporting attitudes.

Rape is a violent act used to humiliate and control. When we remain silent about a wrong it can signify (rightly or wrongly) that we give it our approval.

Men can play a vital role in making society a safer place by letting their voices be heard in their disapproval of sexual violence. Men can make it personal – it could be your own mother, sister, friend, wife, son or daughter that could be raped or abused. It could be you. Can you imagine the impact this would have on your life and other family members' lives.

What men can do

Speak up – when someone in your company tells a joke about rape, let them know that you do not find it funny.

When you read an article that blames a victim for a sexual assault, write a letter to the editor.

Talk with women about how the fear of a sexual assault can affect their lives.

Be aware that a man's physical strength can be intimidating to a woman.

Do not ever force or coerce someone to have sex with you.

Do not assume that your partner's desire for affection is a desire for sex. Both of you may not want the same degree of intimacy.

Stay in touch with your sexual desires. Are you honestly hearing your partner's desires or just your own?

Talk to your partner about your feelings Remember, when a woman says ‘no’ at any stage and a man continues, it is rape.

Being drunk is no defence. We must take responsibility for our actions at all times.

If someone you know tells you they have been sexually abused, listen to them and support them in whatever course of action they wish to take.

Rape and sexual abuse are issues for both women and men. Our bodies are precious and do not deserve to be violated in any way.

Myths and Realities

Myth: Rape is sex Reality: Rape is not sex. Sex involves the mutual consent and enjoyment of both partners. Rape is about violence, power and control over another person. It violates the body of that person.

Myth: "She said ‘no’, but she didn’t really mean it". Reality: When someone says ‘no’ at any stage and the act continues, it is rape.

Myth: People who are raped often ask to be raped by the way they are acting or the way that they are dressed. Reality: Nobody asks to be raped no matter how they are dressed or how they are acting. There is never any justification for sexual violence.

Myth: Most sexual assaults are committed by strangers.
Reality: The majority of people who are sexually assaulted are attacked by someone they know.

Myth: She didn’t struggle so she was not raped. Reality: Most women are too afraid to struggle because of the fear of violence, verbal abuse. Some victims can ‘freeze’ leaving them unable to struggle or call for help.

Myth: If a man spends a lot of money on you, he has the right to have sex with you.
Reality: No matter how much a man spends on you, it does not give him any rights to your body.

Myth: If the attacker is drunk at the time of the assault then they cannot be accused of rape.
Reality: The attacker is responsible for their actions no matter how intoxicated they were. Being drunk is not an excuse for forcing sex on someone against their will.

Myth: There is no such thing as marital rape
Reality:There is a belief that women cannot be raped by her husbands. This is untrue and based upon the belief that women are the property of their husbands. Since 1991, marital rape has been acknowledged as a crime and a married woman can charge her husband with a sexual offence.

If you have been affected by sexual violence, you can contact the Donegal Sexual Abuse & Rape Crisis Centre for counselling and support.

Our telephone number is free phone 1800 44 88 44.