Sexual Violence Definitions

Sexual assault is a form of sexual violence – It is any sexual act that a person did not consent (this means that they didn’t agree to it) to or is forced into against their will.

Sexual assault includes rape (an assault involving penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth), or other sexual offences, such as groping, forced kissing, child sexual abuse or the torture of a person in a sexual manner.

Rape is a type of sexual assault initiated by one person or more persons against another person without that person’s consent.  Rape is penetration (however slight) of the anus or mouth by the penis, or penetration (however slight) of the vagina by any object held or manipulated by another person.  Both women and men can be victims of rape.

Sexual abuse, also referred to as molestation, is abusive sexual behaviour by one person upon another. It is often perpetrated using force or by taking advantage of another. When force is immediate, of short duration, or infrequent, it is called sexual assault. The offender is referred to as a sexual abuser or (often pejoratively) molester. The term also covers any behaviour by an adult or older adolescent towards a child to stimulate any of the involved sexually. The use of a child, or other individuals younger than the age of consent, for sexual stimulation is referred to as child sexual abuse or statutory rape. Live streaming sexual abuse involves trafficking and coerced sexual acts and or rape in real time on webcam.

Aggravated sexual assault involves serious violence or threat of serious violence, or sexual assault which is such as to cause grave injury, humiliation or degradation. 


Child Sexual abuse occurs when a child is used by another person for his or her gratification or arousal, or for that of others. It includes the child being involved in sexual acts (masturbation, fondling, oral or penetrative sex) or exposing the child to sexual activity directly or through pornography.

Child sexual abuse may cover a wide spectrum of abusive activities. It rarely involves just a single incident and in some instances occurs over a number of years. Child sexual abuse most commonly happens within the family, including older siblings and extended family members.

Cases of sexual abuse mainly come to light through disclosure by the child or his or her siblings/friends, from the suspicions of an adult, and/or by physical symptoms.

Examples of child sexual abuse include the following:

  • Any sexual act intentionally performed in the presence of a child
  • An invitation to sexual touching or intentional touching or molesting of a child’s body whether by a person or object for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification
  • Masturbation in the presence of a child or the involvement of a child in an act of masturbation
  • Sexual intercourse with a child, whether oral, vaginal or anal
  • Sexual exploitation of a child, which includes:
    • Inviting, inducing or coercing a child to engage in prostitution or the production of child pornography [for example, exhibition, modelling or posing for the purpose of sexual arousal, gratification or sexual act, including its recording (on film, videotape or other media) or the manipulation, for those purposes, of an image by computer or other means]
    • Inviting, coercing or inducing a child to participate in, or to observe, any sexual, indecent or obscene act
    • Showing sexually explicit material to children, which is often a feature of the ‘grooming’ process by perpetrators of abuse
  • Exposing a child to inappropriate or abusive material through information and communication technology
  • Consensual sexual activity involving an adult and an underage person

In relation to child sexual abuse, it should be noted that in criminal law the age of consent to sexual intercourse is 17 years for both boys and girls. Any sexual relationship where one or both parties are under the age of 17 is illegal. However, it may not necessarily be regarded as child sexual abuse. Details on exemptions for mandated reporting of certain cases of underage consensual sexual activity can be found in Chapter 3 of Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children.

The use of sexual materials, sexual Jokes, innuendo, text messages, unwelcome sexual or intimate acts, advances or requests or inappropriate touching used to intimidate, humiliate or offend the other person, in settings such as school, a youth club or work. For a prosecution for harassment to succeed, there must be evidence of the persistence.

Sexual consent is defined in Irish Law and to summarise, a person consents to a sexual act if he or she freely and voluntarily consents to engage in that act.

Consent is an agreement to participate in a sexual activity. Before being sexual with someone, you need to know if they want to be sexual with you too. It’s also important to be honest with your partner about what you want and don’t want.

  • Consenting and asking for consent are all about setting your personal boundaries and respecting those of your partner — and checking in if things aren’t clear. Both people must agree to sex — every single time — for it to be consensual.
  • Without consent, any sexual activity (including oral sex, genital touching, and vaginal or anal penetration) is sexual assault or rape.

A person does not consent to a sexual act if—

  • (a) he or she permits the act to take place or submits to it because of the application of force to him or her or to some other person, or because of the threat of the application of force to him or her or to some other person, or because of a well-founded fear that force may be applied to him or her or to some other person,
  • (b) he or she is asleep or unconscious,
  • (c) he or she is incapable of consenting because of the effect of alcohol or some other drug,
  • (d) he or she is suffering from a physical disability which prevents him or her from communicating whether he or she agrees to the act,
  • (e) he or she is mistaken as to the nature and purpose of the act,
  • (f) he or she is mistaken as to the identity of any other person involved in the act,
  • (g) he or she is being unlawfully detained at the time at which the act takes place,
  • (h) the only expression or indication of consent or agreement to the act comes from somebody other than the person himself or herself.

There may be other circumstances where a person does not consent.

For example:

  • A person can change their mind and can retract consent at any time before or during a sexual act.
  • A person who does not actively resisit is not automatically consenting.

The Age of Consent in Ireland is 17 years old.  The age of consent is the minimum age at which an individual is considered legally old enough to consent to participation in sexual activity.  Individuals aged 16 or younger in Ireland are considered children are not legally able to consent to sexual activity, and such activity may result in prosecution for statutory rape or the equivalent local law.

It can be extraordinarily difficult to admit that you were raped or sexually assaulted.  Regardless of age or gender, the impact of sexual violence goes far beyond any physical injuries. The trauma of being raped or sexually assaulted can be shattering, leaving you feeling scared, ashamed, and alone or plagued by nightmares, flashbacks, and other unpleasant memories. The world doesn’t feel like a safe place anymore. You no longer trust others. You don’t even trust yourself. You may question your judgment, your self-worth, and even your sanity. You may blame yourself for what happened or believe that you’re “dirty” or “damaged goods.” Relationships feel dangerous, intimacy impossible. And on top of that, like many rape survivors, you may struggle with PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

It’s important to remember that what you’re experiencing is a normal reaction to trauma. Your feelings of helplessness, shame, defectiveness, and self-blame are symptoms, not reality.

If you have been sexually assaulted:

  • Seek medical attention
  • Know it wasn’t your fault
  • Know you are believed
  • Take control of your life
  • Talk to the Gardaí, gather evidence against the perpetrator
  • Contact your local Rape Crisis Centre

If you have been raped or sexually abused, or if you are unsure if you have been abused, contact Rape Crisis North East:

Freephone 1800 21 21 22 or email


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