Midwest Radio

Sexual Violence in Intimate Relationships

We talked to Loretta McDonagh of the Mayo Rape Crisis Centre  about sexual violence within relationships and the outlets that are out there for women and men, who find themselves in these toxic relationships.

When a person is forced to participate in any sexual act without their consent, it is wrong. It is an invasion of physical and personal integrity.

When we hear the words ‘rape’ or ‘sexual assault’ many of us think of a woman being attacked in a dark alley late at night. In recent years, another image of rape has emerged of a man sneaking up on a woman in a nightclub and slipping a drug into her drink, leaving her incapacitated.

When we hear the words ‘rape’ or ‘sexual assault’, rarely do we think of a husband forcing his wife to have sex with him even though she is ‘not in the mood’. A boyfriend showing his friends intimate pictures his girlfriend sent him, or a man obliging his partner to watch pornography are also violations of the person.

Ill-founded beliefs about sexual assault and rape contribute to the fear which victims experience in seeking help or reporting their experience.  Frequently people are afraid they will not be believed, or will be blamed for provoking the incident. This contributes to the silence that continues to surround crimes of sexual violence

The ‘What would you do?’ campaign aims to challenge us as a society, to not remain silent if we become aware of someone suffering domestic abuse. When it relates to sexual violence in an intimate relationship, this will be particularly challenging. If you suspect a friend or family member is experiencing sexual violence at home, finding a supportive way to get involved may seem overwhelming. It is ok to be scared, repulsed or afraid that we have misinterpreted the situation. But it is not ok to do nothing. If we do nothing, we leave another victim behind.

Rape or sexual assault occurs where a person is subjected to a sexual act (penetration or sexual touching) without his or her consent.  It includes situations where a person is unable to give consent – for example if they are unconscious through sleep, drunkenness or being drugged.

Rape or sexual assault may involve threats, coercion or the use of physical force, sometimes with additional acts of violence.

Whether or not physical force is used, rape and sexual assault are acts of violence.  They are a profound physical and personal violation of the individual.  Research shows that the primary motivation in rape and sexual assault is the meeting of the perpetrator’s non-sexual needs for power and domination and their expression of anger, rather than their sexual gratification.

Sexual violence definitions can seem clinical and harsh for such an emotive subject. They are included here because it is important to be clear about what sexual violence is and what victims of sexual violence in intimate relationships can suffer. It is also important to break the taboo of speaking about rape and sexual violence.


Rape is defined as "unlawful sexual intercourse with a woman who at the time of intercourse does not consent to it", where the man "knows that she does not consent to the intercourse… or he is reckless as to whether she does or does not consent to it." Sexual intercourse for the purposes of rape means vaginal intercourse. Rape is by definition only committed when a man has sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent.

Rape under Section 4

This is defined as a sexual assault that includes "penetration (however slight) of the anus or mouth by the penis, or penetration (however slight) of the vagina by any objects held or manipulated by another person."

Aggravated Sexual Assault

This is sexual assault aggravated by serious violence, or the threat of serious violence, or is such as to cause severe injury, humiliation or degradation of a grave nature to the victim.

Sexual Assault

This is a sexual attack with a less serious level of violence than aggravated sexual assault. There are two parts to this offence: there must be intentional assault, and an aura of indecency.



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