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Minister Flanagan announces major changes to the collection of data on the prevalence of sexual violence

Minister Flanagan announces major changes to the collection of data on the prevalence of sexual violence

CSO to undertake a major national survey and to repeat the exercise every decade

A major piece of work is required to prepare the ground for the survey including specialist training

Preparatory work is to begin in 2019

Survey outcomes will inform Government policy

The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan today (Tuesday) announced that the Government had approved his proposals for a radical new approach to the collection of data on the prevalence of sexual violence in the State.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) is to undertake a comprehensive national survey on the prevalence of sexual violence. This major survey will look in detail at the experience of women and men in Ireland of sexual violence.

The survey will be repeated every decade to establish how these experiences are changing over time for the purpose of informing Government policy responses to these heinous crimes.

The Government has agreed in principle that a range of supplementary data collection exercises will be undertaken in the interim periods between major surveys to determine the experience of sexual violence of certain vulnerable and minority groups.

Minister Flanagan said:

“My priority in relation to this survey is not to tick a box – my priority is to ensure that the State undertakes an ongoing programme of research of the highest quality in a sensitive and ethical way to ensure a robust set of data to inform Government policy. This survey is unique and very sensitive – it will involve the lives and experiences of real people who may be revealing deeply traumatic experiences. Resources and time are needed to ensure this survey is done right and. I am providing for both.

“Following the ground-breaking SAVI study in 2002, there has been repeated calls to undertake another similar survey. I want to move away from an ad hoc approach to the collection of data on the prevalence of sexual violence and my proposal to ask the CSO to collect this data means that it will now become part of statistical data that the State collects.

“We know from the 2002 survey and from consultations with NGOs that sexual crime is under-reported in Ireland. A survey of this nature will present a truer picture of the reality on the ground and ensure that Government policy is properly informed.

“This ambitious proposal will involve a sample of 5,000 people and a multiplicity of data points.

“This is new ground for the CSO and I am very grateful to that Office for agreeing to undertake this large-scale complex and sensitive work. The legislative and ethical environment is more complicated now than when the original survey was undertaken but I am confident that the CSO is the right organisation to undertake this work forward in a way that ensures the very highest ethical and professional standards.”

Minister Flanagan paid tribute to the NGOs which have campaigned for a survey to be undertaken, saying:

“I want to pay tribute to the NGOs, in particular the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, which has consistently called for a survey to be conducted. Their expertise is really important and, while the CSO is statutorily independent in undertaking its work, I have requested NGO involvement through a stakeholder liaison group in relation to the sexual violence prevalence survey.”

The Minister continued:

“Following completion of a Scoping Exercise by an expert group appointed by Government, it became clear that delivering a survey that met the highest standards would be a significant undertaking and a multiannual project.”

The first year will involve preparatory work including specialist training. For the data to be robust, very explicit and intimate questions regarding behaviours associated with sexual violence will have to be asked of respondents. As a result, the design and implementation of this survey will require specialist expertise and training. There is the care due to individuals who will be answering sensitive questions, the care due to the individuals who will be conducting the survey and other ethical and data protection risks that need to be managed.

A considerable amount of preparatory work is required to undertake a national survey of this kind. This will involve consultation with key stakeholders and consideration of best international practice regarding appropriate collection methods as well as identification of the skills, training and structures that may be required to support data gathering in this sensitive area.

Funding of €150,000 has been made available for 2019 to allow CSO to carry out essential technical research, so that the survey can be smoothly implemented and robust and reliable data made available. Furthermore, the Government has agreed in principle that once detailed budgets can be devised by CSO, following preliminary research, any necessary resources will be made available to ensure the survey takes place.

The projected timeline for the first survey to be undertaken by the CSO will see a pilot survey undertaken following two years of preparation. Data collection and processing will then take place following by comprehensive analysis and reporting of results.

The Government decision was informed by the report of a scoping group, established by Minister Flanagan and led by Dorothy Watson, Research Professor at the ESRI and Trinity College Dublin, with Departmental, academic and other experts to draw up a list of data points to be included in the survey and consider related issues. That work was completed in three months, which was a tribute to the extremely hard work of the group. This report is also being published online today on the Department’s website.

Even a cursory perusal of that report will demonstrate the complexity and sensitivity of the project. It is estimated that the project will require sustained effort by CSO in the period 2019-23.


The scoping report’s primary focus is the listing of a set of data points for the survey. These are data points, and not a questionnaire. Drawing up a questionnaire is a separate technical exercise, which will include a piloting process to iron out practical difficulties and misunderstandings in practice.

The scoping group met for three months from January to April, 2018. Its terms of reference and membership are on the Department’s website.

Following completion of the scoping group’s work, the Department of Justice and Equality sought legal advice on a range of technical issues to ensure a survey could be conducted in a way that is compatible with the current legal framework.

CSO regularly engages with stakeholders in relation to large projects and the national sexual violence prevalence study will be no exception. Among the stakeholders will be organisations in the sexual violence sector. The Departments of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of Health also have an ongoing interest in this survey.

CSO is statutorily independent in the exercise of its functions. The Department of Justice and Equality will agree a Memorandum of Understanding with the CSO.

Any data gathered by the CSO under the Statistics Act, 1993 may not be disclosed to any third parties so as to identify any individual person.

At the end of the survey CSO will store anonymised data from the survey and will make this anonymised data available to bona fide researchers to increase our understanding of the phenomenon of sexual violence, so that it can be dealt with more effectively. This will be done subject to the Statistics Act, 1993 and the strict controls outlined in the CSO Policy on Access to Research Microdata Files.

A whole of population survey can by definition only hope to gather data on small numbers of members of particular minority groups. These small numbers make it statistically problematic to make detailed statements with sufficient confidence about these groups. Therefore, once the first survey is completed its findings will be used as a background to more detailed research, perhaps of a qualitative as well as a quantitative nature, of specific groups.

It is intended that this survey will take place every decade.

Sexual Assault and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) was a national survey published in 2002. It was commissioned by the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and undertaken by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.