In short, no.
The results of a Eurobarometer survey on attitudes to gender based violence have been widely reported in the Irish media, where headlines universally focused on the shocking statistic that more than one-in-five Irish people believe that sex without consent (i.e. rape) is acceptable in certain circumstances.
Media reports detailed the specific circumstances in question; 9% believed that sex without consent was justified by sexy or provocative clothing; 7% thought it was justified if the victim was walking alone at night; 7% thought it was justified if there had been flirting beforehand. Overall, 21% of Irish respondents identified at least one scenario in which having sex without consent was OK.
If these statistics are even close to correct there would be every reason for considerable alarm. Fortunately, reading the Eurobarometer report reveals that the headline figures are a gross misrepresentation of Irish attitudes.
Let’s start with the question respondents were asked. The full text is as follows
“Some people believe that having sexual intercourse without consent is justified in certain situations. Do you think this applies to the following circumstances?”
Ten circumstances are then listed.
Clearly, the text of the question is ambiguous – are respondents being asked to identify the situations where they themselves think sex without consent is acceptable or are they being asked to identify the scenarios in which other people believe this is the case?
We cannot be certain what proportion of the respondents had one understanding of the question and what proportion had the other. However, based on the answers to other questions in the survey, we can draw some useful inferences.
When asked to categorise “Forcing a partner to have sex” 96% of Irish people said it was wrong (as opposed to 2% “not wrong” and 2% “don’t know”)
Likewise, when asked about “making sexually suggestive comments or jokes to a woman on the street” 93% agreed it was wrong (as opposed to 3% “not wrong” and 4% “don’t know”)
When asked about “touching a colleague in an inappropriate or unwanted way” 97% said that was it wrong (versus 1% “not wrong” and 2% “don’t know”)
Given that approximately 95% of those surveyed condemn these kinds of behaviours, it’s simply not credible to suggest that 21% of the exact same set of respondents actually thought it was ever OK to have sex without consent.