Like everyone else, I was shaken and horrified at the brutal murder of young Irish woman Ashling Murphy in Tullamore, County Offaly last week. The fact that she was killed in broad daylight while out running along a popular and well populated canal has sent shockwaves throughout the country and abroad. As with the Sarah Everard case last year in London, it has brought the issue of women’s safety and violence against women to the forefront of public discourse.
Over the past seven days, the airwaves, column inches and cyber space has been flooded with women telling their own stories of harassment, abuse, and assault. I, myself also, have many a tale about negative experiences that only happened because yes, I am a woman. I, too, now take steps both inside and outside my house. I carry my key, I take my phone with me always (make sure it is charged and topped up), I know my route and I only go out at dark if I absolutely must.
I could go on but honestly the list of self – imposed, so called “rules” would take up the entire word count of the article. It is a part of everyday life for me at this stage as my “experiences” started as a young girl not a woman. It is depressing and yes it does take a toll on your mental health but if it is one thing I’ve learned through all these “interactions” is that it’s better to be safe than sorry. To face some hard facts instead of indulging in futile wishing.
Last week, I posted online about Ashling murder and attended a vigil in her memory. I felt it was the right thing to do. I discussed her killing and the wider debate with people of both sexes. Now, I am compelled to write this piece and address some issues. There have been some pessimistic thoughts at the back of my head since I heard of the tragedy.
Would we still be sympathetic if Aashling had been walking home, scantily clad at 4am in the morning instead of out running at 4pm in the afternoon? Would there be the same furore if she had been a prostitute and not a primary schoolteacher? Would we be as angry towards her killer if he were a close relative and not a stranger? The optimist in me would like to think so, but the realist part does not believe it at all.
Where are the vigils for men like Michael Tormey shot outside his own front door in Ballyfermot, Dublin? The calls for an end to violence against males who statistically get attacked and killed more than females do? What about curing the pandemics of homelessness, suicide, incarceration and dropping out of the school system that afflict men at higher rates than women? How about admitting that men can be abused in the home as well?
Why are men attacked more so than women? Is it because that as women, because of our harsh lessons, we decide not to put ourselves at unnecessary risk? Most if not every woman will never consciously walk home alone at night. We get a taxi. Because we know what could happen to us. Whereas a man would chance it thinking he would be alright?
Sadly, Ireland is becoming an increasingly violent society. This has not been helped by lax laws concerning bail, sentencing, self-defence, parole, and immigration. If legislators really wanted to make a difference and make our society safer, they could start there.
Furthermore, is being cautious and using common sense such a bad thing? We have been hearing a lot about how women should be free to go anywhere at any time. How we have a right to this, that and the other. This might be the case in an ideal world. Which we do not live in. In an ideal world, we should be able to leave our car parked anywhere unlocked and expect it and the belongings inside to still be there when we return. But we know there is a good chance that would not be the case, so we hide our belongings and lock the car before leaving it unattended.
The same goes with our handbag, mobile phone, wallet etc. We fasten our doors and close our windows at night-time before going to bed. We think twice before answering to an unknown person. We supervise children if they are outside playing and teach them about stranger danger. Why is it so controversial to share the same level of care for our own wellbeing?
Sometimes prevention really is better than cure. I wonder of all these politicians and feminist leaders who are telling young, impressionable girls that they have a right to walk around at all hours of the morning and expect to feel safe. When was the last time they walked home alone at night? When did they last feel vulnerable or unsafe?
The simple fact remains if you are out walking by yourself at night in an isolated area and you come across a person or people with evil intentions, whatever rights you think you may have become redundant. You are at their mercy. There will be no public figure there to rescue you. You are on your own. This harsh reality is what will save us.
A crime is the sole fault of the criminal. No question about that. There is no such thing as the perfect victim. Unfortunately, as we have seen with the tragic case of Ashling Murphy, you can do the right thing and still fall prey to a violent offender. There will always be misfortune. But if there are steps we can take to reduce the danger of becoming a victim, there is no shame or weakness in accepting reality and protecting ourselves.