Secular trends in child and adult sexual violence--one decreasing and the other increasing: a population survey in Ireland

Eur J Public Health. 2011 Feb;21(1):98-103. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/ckp203. Epub 2010 Jul 15.


Background: Sexual violence is a worldwide problem affecting children and adults. Knowledge of trends in prevalence is essential to inform the design and evaluation of preventive and intervention programmes. We aimed to assess the prevalence of lifetime sexual violence for both sexes and to document the prevalence of adult and child abuse by birth year in the general population.

Methods: National cluster-randomized telephone interview study of 3120 adults in Ireland was done.

Results: Child sexual abuse involving physical contact was reported by 20% of women and 16% of men. In adulthood, figures were 20% and 10% for women and men, respectively. Prevalence of any form of sexual violence across the lifespan was 42% (women) and 38% (men). Analysis by year of birth indicated a curvilinear pattern for child sexual abuse with lower prevalence in the oldest and youngest participants. Sexual violence in young adulthood showed a linear pattern with higher prevalence in the youngest participants.

Conclusion: The trend of lower rates of experience of child sexual abuse in younger adults in the sample is in keeping with findings from other countries. The trend of higher rates of adult sexual violence in younger adults is worrying, particularly since the same participants reported less experience of child sexual abuse than the preceding generations. There is a paucity of international data addressing the issue of cohort differences in exposure to sexual violence. Within-study analysis, and follow-up studies designed to maximize replicability, are needed to inform discussion about societal trends in different types of sexual violence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / statistics & numerical data
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / trends
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ireland / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Sex Factors
  • Sex Offenses / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sex Offenses / trends*
  • Young Adult