‘Of all the times . . .’
When I lived in Dublin I had conversations with my female friends about harassment, assault and the pervasive threat of violence all the time. When we brought these incidents up among our male friends they were often shocked that so much of our lives were spent on high alert.
The women I know are not afraid of men or the dark. We just want to travel by foot or taxi or public transport without fear. The women I know don’t want to plan their daily walking routines or exercise outdoors based on available daylight – but they do. The women I know are only too aware of how easily learned hypervigilance kicks in when moving around in the world.
The women I know all have a vast catalogue of incidents that might later seem benign but for a moment were terrifying.
When it’s the middle of the day and you’re in a taxi and the driver turns down a lane that seems to go on forever and you know this isn’t the best route and your palms start to sweat
Of all the times when a man came up behind you quickly, walking home (in the dark) after work, and you realise he’s just rushing to get home too, but not for the same reasons.
When you are on an empty train carriage and a man gets on and sits right beside you and you get off at the next stop and wait 20 minutes for another train. Just in case.
When you have a 10-minute walk to your house and the man behind you crosses the road every time you do and is getting closer and closer as you pick up your pace and get out your keys, ready to call your partner, waiting to turn a corner and run, and try to convince yourself maybe you’re being paranoid because you just watched Zodiac.
When it’s the middle of the day and you’re in a taxi on the way to a big meeting and the driver turns down a weird, grotty lane that seems to go on forever and you know this isn’t the best route and your palms start to sweat a bit and your heart suddenly races.
When a car full of 20-something men pulls up beside you in the dark and you almost jump out of your skin, and it turns out they just need directions and you wonder when you turned into a complete weirdo.
When out walking at night, a woman frantically rushes towards you and your partner and asks if you’ll pretend to know her while she calls a friend because a man has been following her.
When you and a friend are aggressively groped in a crowded bar and you tell the barman and he says, “What can you do, love, it’s really busy in here tonight.”
When you go for a walk after work and it’s bright and you listen to a podcast and go home the long way, then without you realising it turns dark, you’ve been walking with headphones for 40 minutes, and if anything happened – you were careless and you feel guilty and then angry.
‘I crossed the road, he crossed the road’
I, like every single other woman I know, have been followed on numerous occasions. The scariest time was when I noticed a man follow me off the train in the Dún Laoghaire area for about 15 minutes. It wasn’t particularly late: it was 10pm during the summer of 2020. My suspicions that he was following me were confirmed when I walked in a circle around the block and he was still about five metres behind me. I sped up, he sped up. I crossed the road, he crossed the road. He was still behind me, and closer to me, when I reached my road. It wasn’t until I happened to run into a neighbour, and told her I was being followed, that I heard him say “s**t” under his breath and turn on his heels in the opposite direction. If my neighbour wasn’t there at that time, I doubt I would have made it to my house.
‘We are the unlucky gender’
Since the Sarah Everard case I have yet to talk to a female friend, either in Ireland or the UK, who does not have a story. Maybe I have unlucky friends, but I think it’s more likely that we are the unlucky gender. I’ve been followed home to my front door by a man who pestered me while walking home from work, and harassed in the street late in the night – both times in Brussels. In Dublin, I was so uncomfortable with the conversation a taxi man was having with me while travelling home after a work trip that I messaged friends his taxi registration details and then pretend-fumbled with my keys, waiting for him to drive off before walking to my front door.
Another time, I took an early bus to work. My gut instinct was telling me to get off as it emptied on O’Connell Street but my mind was telling me to stop being irrational. I then sat and listened to the sole other passenger as he told me how short my skirt was, why he liked my legs and what type of women he liked – at 7am. “I won’t be getting that bus again!” I said as I laughed off the story to colleagues later that morning, despite being deeply uncomfortable while on the bus.
Women’s safety from men has been a burden we have held by ourselves for too long. What we need now is men to become part of the conversation
If we wonder what issues transcend borders and cultures, one is the collective consistent fear that women have for their personal safety. The lockdown has been something of a reprieve from this (only for women who do not face domestic violence), but Sarah Everard’s murder has been a lightning strike of a reminder. It has sparked chats with friends around those situations where you don’t like where the conversation is heading, where you know you are being looked at or touched inappropriately, where your heart begins to beat faster and you start to plan the escape route in your head.
Why have we accepted this for so long? Why is this something we should have to put up with? I was never told to hold my keys in hand as I walk home at night or to not wear earphones or to pick up your pace if there is a man behind you. Like I imagine for many other women, I just started doing them instinctively.
Women’s safety from men has been a burden we have held by ourselves for too long. What we need now is men to become part of the conversation. Here are our stories in all their minor and major variations, here is what we have to tolerate from some men and here also is your opportunity to help us. So instead of asking women to regale their stories and where the solution lies, how about we ask men where the solution lies? What can men do to ensure all men treat women with respect, and what can you as a man do to help that cause?
‘Women and girls will never be fully safe’
I have far too many stories, from every one of my six decades. This issue will never be resolved, no matter how much legislation is thrown at it. I spent decades believing it’s my right to be anywhere I like, at any time, in any place, but I’ve now resigned myself to the fact that women and girls will never be fully safe, so it’s up to us to ensure we don’t put ourselves in the way of danger as much as possible.
‘Being a woman is exhausting’
I have lived in Ireland for a few years and do not feel particularly safe. I have been cat-called and harassed on public transport, walking home and on nights out. I have even had a man expose himself to me on the Luas one night, when nobody else was there. Generally, I find men are unaware of how encroaching on women’s space can make us feel unsafe. Often men will come up too close when you’re waiting alone for a bus and try to talk, even if you have headphones on and look visibly uncomfortable. In pubs and clubs, men will often touch you without consent, even just to get by in a crowd.
Even with men I know, I do not feel safe – my ex-flatmate coerced and molested me one night after we had both been drinking. My worst experience here was being sexually assaulted in a taxi by the driver on the way home from a night out. I never feel safe walking alone at night and now I don’t feel safe taking taxis alone. As a woman, I feel that my life is restricted by fears of being attacked or harassed.
Men need to hold themselves and the other men in their lives accountable, they need to listen to women and stop interrupting or pushing back
I’d love to jog in the evening without fear or go out on a blind date without an escape plan and a friend tracking my location in case things turn violent. Being a woman or otherwise marginalised person is exhausting, and the anxiety really wears you down. Every one of my friends who are women or visibly gender-non-conforming have been harassed or assaulted. Men, especially white men, need to take accountability and learn not to be defensive. I am tired of trying to explain my pain and trauma to men only to be shut down and told, “Not all men do that.”
Every man I have known, including men I have loved, has participated in misogyny at some level, whether they were aware or not. Men need to hold themselves and the other men in their lives accountable, they need to listen to women and stop interrupting or pushing back, and they need to educate themselves about consent. A world where women and LGBTQ+ people – as well as men of colour or men who are otherwise marginalised – are equal to white men should not be seen as a threat. It is a world where everyone can feel safe and valued.
‘One of the problems is the 24/7 availability of porn’
The problem is the way men are socialised to think of women and girls. It starts young: many of us were sexualised as young girls, either by being exposed to sexual abuse by brothers, cousins and other family members, being flashed at and cat-called in the street on the way to school, or harassed by boys at school. I have been sexually harassed at work and stalked by an ex-partner, and I am a sexual-violence survivor. I never go out alone, carry a rape alarm on my keychain and have one in the car too.
One of the biggest problems is the 24/7 availability of porn. Young men are growing up saturated in porn and think that violence and humiliation during sex are normal and acceptable. Men feel entitled to our bodies and can’t cope with being told no. Irish men spend more than €180 million a year on the sex industry; studies have shown that even though they know the women have been trafficked, their own sexual gratification comes first. It’s not about educating men: men know. It is about consequences: until the law and society punish men for their violence, sexual or otherwise, nothing will change. We will continue to live as prey.
‘I think to myself, I’m one of the lucky ones’
My story is the same as pretty much everyone else’s. Shouted at as a schoolgirl in uniform, deeply inappropriate comments both as a kid and an adult, being groped on public transport, being told I’m a sl*t for saying I’m not interested, using the “I have a boyfriend” excuse, because apparently men would give more weight to the opinion of a fictional man than to my refusal. Every so often I think to myself, I’m one of the lucky ones – I haven’t been seriously assaulted or raped. And then I think, what a truly sad sentiment that is.
‘One of them grabbed my breasts’
In 1996, when I was 14, I was walking to my friend’s house after school. It was about 4.30pm, broad daylight, and I had just left my school to walk about 1km to my friend. I was by myself on a busy road in suburban Dublin. Three men in their mid-to-late-20s were walking in the opposite direction to me. As I passed, I heard one of them say, “I dare you to grab her tits.” I was wearing my school uniform, so they would have known I was only a teenager.
Next thing one of them grabbed my breasts. The other two howled laughing. I was so scared and shocked that I ran out into the road to get away from him. I didn’t know what to do. I remember seeing the faces of people in the (thankfully stationary) traffic, staring at me. None of them got out to help or ask if I was okay.
It was exactly the wrong way to react if someone tells you they have been harassed or assaulted
He eventually let go of me and I ran back to my school as fast as I could. I found a teacher and told him what had happened. His reaction surprised me. He asked where I was when it happened, what was I doing, did I start talking to these men first, etc. He seemed to want to put part of the blame on me. He made me feel stupid and ashamed and somehow that I had caused the incident.
But all I was doing was walking on the footpath, minding my own business. Because of the way that teacher reacted, I didn’t tell my parents or any other adult what had happened. I felt somehow that I was in the wrong and that I might get into trouble.
I know now as an adult that I did nothing wrong and the blame lies entirely with that man and his friends who egged him on. No doubt that was one of their hilarious stories that they regaled their friends with to show what mad b**tards they were. But equally annoying to me now is the reaction of that teacher. It was exactly the wrong way to react if someone tells you they have been harassed or assaulted. If you focus your attention on what the victim was doing, wearing or behaving like, or where they were, you are not focusing on why the perpetrator did that.
‘He wasn’t a taxi driver’
On returning by air from a short visit to the UK, I went up to the queue for taxis at the airport. Or so I thought. I was accompanied to the taxi by a friend who saw me off. All well, I thought. I gave my destination, which was north Co Dublin, 20km away. It was only when he seemed confused by our route that I sat up and felt a bit suspicious. The taxi driver had no idea how to get to my town, which would have been well recognised by any driver.
When he tried to pull over and go down a dark lane I shouted “No, straight ahead,” and he swerved back on to the road. What I did, and I would recommend to any one, is I took out my phone and pretended to call my husband. I knew he wasn’t at home, but I pretended to talk loudly to him. “We’ve just turned off at Blakes Cross and I’ll be home in 10 minutes. My friend at the airport saw me off with the taxi driver” – not really true – “and how are you? Put the kettle on. I’m dying for a cup of tea. Only five minutes away now.”
I thought I may have misjudged the poor taxi man until I got home and asked how much was the fare. He replied €10 when it should have been €40-plus. He wasn’t a taxi driver. I ran into the house and swore never to get a taxi alone again at night.
‘I feel a lot safer in Cork than I ever did in Paris’
I agree there is a massive problem with how women are treated and blamed when they are being harassed and assaulted. That said, I grew up in Paris. While that sounds nice and romantic, the harsh reality is that women are sexualised from a very young age. I was 13 the first time I was followed by a man; he was about 40 years my senior. I ran home, terrorised. I was shaking so hard my dad walked me back to school and came to pick me up. It later appeared the man was always around schools, trying to pick up girls, some as young as 10.
By the time I was 15, I had learned that even a basic V-neck could get me rude comments from any sort of men in the street or in public transport, and men had no qualms exposing themselves in public. By 21, cat-calling was a daily occurrence, sometimes multiple times a day. Worst thing was, if you turn the man off – even politely – or ignore him, you get called names. If you smile and say “thank you”, then the man is going to expect (a lot) more. There’s no winning. This is why so many women in Paris have headphones on and their heads down. They don’t necessarily listen to anything or need to rush, they just hope they will be left alone.
Since I moved to Ireland, I haven’t had that problem. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, only that I haven’t experienced it. I can walk down the street in the middle of the night, wearing a low-cut top, and no one is going to say anything. I did get a few whistles and cat-calls, turned a few down at the pub, but the men never insisted. Lucky me, I suppose, but that is my experience. I feel a lot safer, day or night, in Cork than I ever did in Paris.
‘When I told a male colleague, he told me I should be flattered’
This story really shook me last week. In 2019 I was renting a ground-floor apartment. I opened my blinds one day and saw a man staring at me. I screamed. He ran. I minimised it, but my colleague told me to call the police. Turns out he had been following me for weeks. They never caught him. I’m lucky nothing more serious happened, but I moved back in with my parents after that and I’m scared to move back out again.
I’m 30 and single and well aware, as I always was, of the restrictions I have to put on myself to stay safe. No walking after dark, no public transport by myself at night, no ground-floor apartment. And men will never understand the fear we have to live with. When I told a male colleague what happened, he told me I should be flattered. It’s very scary and upsetting.
‘I think men are oblivious to how normalised this is’
I think Ireland compares well to other countries in terms of street harassment and assault. That being said, there have been times where I have felt unsafe simply because I’m a woman. I think the thing that men fail to grasp, or are simply unaware of, is that seemingly trivial interactions can be more distressing for us than they realise. I’ve had guys minimise and dismiss street harassment as rudeness or laugh when I say I found it creepy that a guy I didn’t know asked me if I lived alone.
The problem for us is we don’t know which men are capable of following us, raping us, murdering us, so we have to assume that every man is a potential threat
Any woman who wants a modicum of independence in the world learns to modify her behaviour in an attempt to mitigate risk. We learn to consider our personal safety as second nature. It influences our decisions all the time and it results in us perceiving situations differently from men. So when some guy shouts lewd comments at us on the street, the worst of the experience is not that it makes us feel disgusting, like a piece of meat simply available for men’s pleasure. The worst of it is not knowing what he’s going to do next. What are his intentions? Is he going to follow me? If he does follow me, should I change my route? How will I get out of this situation?
To a lot of men that probably sounds sensationalist and ridiculous, but I assure you that women the world over are thinking about their personal safety when they experience interactions like this. The problem for us is we don’t know which men are capable of following us, raping us, murdering us. So when we don’t know which men are actually a threat, we have to assume that every man is a potential threat.
I think men are also oblivious to how normalised this is for us. A few years ago I was telling a friend about a neighbourhood I had been staying in in Berlin and how I experienced a lot of street harassment there and how one night a guy followed me back to my apartment, which was terrifying. She replied: “That could happen anywhere. Sure, we’ve all been followed.” And, sadly, she’s right. I’ve been followed in Dublin too. Every woman has experiences like these, instances you look back on and consider near-misses.
‘I don’t know how I would have got rid of him’
Mostly it’s fine, but I have had a few unnerving experiences. On one occasion I was followed in Limerick by a guy who was trying to make conversation with me. Luckily, I was going to a hotel where there was strict security on the door. Otherwise I don’t know how I would have got rid of him.
There is a problem here with men who persist in trying to engage with women who want to be left alone. To be fair, in public places security staff are good at quickly intervening, but it’s much harder to shake a determined pest outside of security-covered areas.
‘He asked what was wrong with me’
Today I bumped into a colleague while out walking on a main busy road. A car crawled by, window rolled down, and the male driver started to check my colleague out, not in the most respectful way. I made a hand gesture. He caught up and asked what was wrong with me. This is not the first time this has happened.
Another colleague of mine, in 2016, while standing on a street in Limerick, was kerb-crawled by a stranger (male) and asked if they wanted a lift, again in broad daylight. I was glad to have been there with them, as my colleague was incredibly shaken by this. Two weeks ago I was walking in an open part of a large public park and sensed someone quickly walking behind me. I felt very uncomfortable and when I turned around the man looked away. I quickly changed tack and had to check to see if they were still following me. I am now more wary than ever walking in a public space in broad daylight.
‘My health had started to deteriorate’
I have been followed by men of all ages for a number of years. I believe this is a result of a former colleague who has had an obsession and is fixated on me – to the point that he recruited his mates to follow me around. He has even hacked into my phone, my computer and all my social-media accounts. Since I discovered I am being stalked and tracked, wherever I go I don’t step outside the house unless it’s necessary. It had gotten so bad that my health had started to deteriorate.
I went to my general practitioner, who got worried and referred me to a psychiatrist. I mentioned my predicament to the psychiatrist, who in turn told me I was delusional. I would never have thought this would happen to me, especially at the age of over 50. I have been put on long sickness leave from the time I started voicing my concerns to our employer. I have now adjusted to living a defeated life in that regard, because I realised the more I voice my concerns the more I get to be labelled delusional.
‘I just want to feel safe’
My most prominent memory of having a very bad experience was a night in December 1995. I was a university student out in Dublin city centre for Christmas drinks with some classmates. After the revelry, I left to get the Nitelink bus from D’Olier Street. I made it to the bus stop just as the doors were closing. Having knocked on the door, the driver looked at me and pulled away from the stop. I didn’t have the money for a taxi, so I was stuck with an hour to kill in the wee hours in the city centre in the cold.
I took myself across to Abrakebabra on Westmoreland Street, at the corner of O’Connell Bridge (it’s a Londis now), for food and safety. I ordered some food and went downstairs to the seating area. A man spotted me on my own and decided to join me. He made small talk, but I felt uncomfortable. He “offered” to bring me to his place on the quays while I waited the remaining time for the bus. I politely declined.
I ran as fast as I could home with my keys sticking out between my fingers as a potential weapon, as us women are taught to do from a young age
Once I finished my food I went upstairs, straight to the security guard. I told him I was going to stand outside the window and asked if he would keep an eye on me. Sure enough the man appeared beside me and kept suggesting I go to his apartment with him. Again, I repeatedly said no. The security guard had come out and stood at the barrier watching the exchange – giving me space but also making me feel safe. The guy finally left me alone. I thanked the security man and stayed there until the bus was due. To this day I am so grateful to that man.
On the Nitelink I used to always sit downstairs “to be safe”. Nevertheless, this night I didn’t feel it: a man sat next to me, very close. He was leaning in to me and his leg was right next to mine. Every so often his hand got closer and closer to my leg. I spent the entire 45-minute journey hoping he would get off before me and, if he didn’t, worrying about how I was going to get out of the seat and walk the 10 minutes home.
He didn’t get off before me. I squeezed past. (Obviously, he did not concede any room to do this without me having to rub against him.) I felt such terror that he would follow me off the bus. I ran as fast as I could home with my keys sticking out between my fingers as a potential weapon, as us women are taught to do from a young age. The next day the news was full of a missing woman – Marilyn Rynn had disappeared. I remember feeling so lucky it wasn’t me.
That was just the worst experience. There have been others when I’ve been spat at, wolf-whistled, cat-called, beeped at, yelled at from passing cars and vans. I’m 43 now and still walk with my keys in my hand sometimes. I don’t walk after dark with headphones (even at 6pm in winter). I text friends when I get home after a night out and ask them to text me likewise. I just want to feel safe.
‘Peer influence is the greatest motivator for change’
In the same way all white people are responsible for ending racism, the solution of male violence against women lies within men as a class. The response to “not all men” as “not all men but all women”, and so on, fails to acknowledge that it is indeed “yes, all men” who are responsible for male culture. All men have inherent (un)conscious sexist and misogynistic biases, just like all white people have inherent (un)conscious racism and all straight people have inherent homophobia to some extent.
And all men benefit in some way from patriarchal structures and attitudes, whether they explicitly know it or not. It is time for all men to get comfortable with a little discomfort. Peer influence is the greatest motivator for change; we all need to feel that we are accepted and belong with our peers. Men are beginning to see that they should call out their mate for his misogynistic comment or the fact that he pays for sex after work before going home to his wife. It will be awkward, and you won’t get any credit for it, but it is worth it. And change starts from within. In order to create wider change, men have to be open to discovering and analysing their own biases and inherent misogyny.
Men stepping up to challenge other men’s misogynistic behaviour contribute towards ending that behaviour, but it is also incredibly healing for survivors of male violence
Getting off to a 19-year-old girl being choked and gagged in porn (90 per cent of porn is violence against women) and then tweeting your tips to help women feel safe in the streets by crossing the road is hypocritical. Societal change is hard; crossing the road is easy to do and easy to feel good about – challenging your use of porn and looking at what material gets you off is less easy and, again, no credit or cookies will be handed out.
Because the work in change is a personal, intimate, on-your-own kind of thing. But unless we challenge pornography and the profound impact it is having on boys, misogyny is going to get worse. Teenage girls are being pressured into having anal sex and there is an assumption now among young people that a man choking the woman or girl is just a normal part of sex and therefore acceptable.
Men get incredibly defensive when I bring up porn, such was the level of their outrage that I critique something that causes so much harm but is clearly very dear to them. Nothing seems to anger them quicker, which I find interesting. If I was to bring up the harms of smoking, they’d probably roll their eyes at me, but there would be no personalised anger coming my way. The harms of both smoking and pornography are well researched and documented. But only one hits a nerve of male sexual entitlement, something which men have been enjoying, presumably, since time began.
Not only does men stepping up to challenge other men’s misogynistic behaviour contribute towards ending that behaviour, but it is also incredibly healing for survivors of male violence. It sends a message of safety, a beacon from a lighthouse in what is currently incredibly rough seas. Every man can dismantle misogyny and rape culture from the inside, but it starts with every single individual man.
‘All men need to be part of the solution’
This past week we have seen many women sharing their stories. In response, some have shared the hashtag #NotAllMen, and of course not all men commit these crimes. However, men have a responsibility for intervening if they witness something or speaking up if a friend is behaving badly.
One experience of sexual harassment has stuck with me above others. It happened when I was 20, seven years ago, and it was a summer evening where I was waiting for a bus into town to meet some friends. A man was standing outside the bookies beside the bus stop having a smoke and he started talking to me. He asked where I was going, who I was meeting, etc. Then he started asking did I have a boyfriend and was I “intimate with him”. At this point I said that was a very personal question and put my earphones back in. I could see the bus approaching about 200m away, but the man kept trying to speak to me and prodding me when I ignored him.
A taxi driver witnessed this and pulled up to ask if I was okay. I shook my head and he offered to drive me to the next bus stop. He was disgusted by the man’s behaviour when I told him what had happened. I was so grateful in that moment that he had intervened and still am. So, no, #NotAllMen, but all men need to be part of the solution if we are to solve the problem. And if that taxi driver is reading this, thank you.
‘It’s time men began to address this issue’
I think you should give space to the precautions women take in their daily lives to protect themselves. I travel a lot, so I am frequently in places alone or staying alone at home. If taking a taxi home (where l am the only person there) I will “phone my husband” to say what time to expect me. This is an act of self-protection, not a judgment on the taxi driver. However, every male is a potential threat.
If I am driving home at night and there is another vehicle travelling behind me, I will not turn in the little boreen off the main road where l live but will bypass it and do a circle and re-enter. My home is somewhat isolated even though it is near other dwellings. I don’t feel I should vacate my home to stay safe. Walking home from the Dart, I would not carry a handbag – I would wear a loose jacket and jeans and try not to swing my hips.
These are a number of many precautions that millions of other women of all ages take daily and almost never speak of. I don’t live in fear. I get on with living my life. But I was recently reflecting on the fact women live with the possibility of being raped in their lifetime. It is time men began to address this issue and call it out with each other.
‘He then turned to his friend to laugh about it’
While I was dancing with my sisters and boyfriend at my cousin’s wedding, an old man, who had to be in his late 70s or early 80s, stood at the edge of the dancefloor with another old man. He reached in, rammed his hand up my dress and punched me in the vagina. He then turned to his friend to laugh about it. What do you do? Call the gardaí to your cousin’s wedding to a report an old farmer who was “just having the craic”? I was sore for days afterwards.
‘He groped me, said good girl and ran off laughing’
As a 16 year old I was walking through my hometown in Mayo on a bright, sunny day on the way to visit my grandmother. Out of the corner of my eye I saw an older man watching me and cross the road to follow me. He continued to follow me while my brain tried to process what was happening and think quickly what to do. Suddenly, he ran up behind me.
In a panic I ran out into the road and in front of a car to avoid him. Thankfully, the car stopped in time. The man still continued to run up behind me, groped me, said “good girl” and ran off laughing. He was never caught and is presumably still out there.
Last year I lived in Clapham, in London, less than 10 minutes from where Sarah Everard went missing. I feel so angry that a woman always has to be vigilant and this is accepted as normal. My heart goes out to Sarah’s friends and family.
Men need to be part of the solution, develop greater awareness on what to do to make women feel safer, offer to walk friends home, be an active bystander. I also think more police patrols are needed to keep our streets safe. It won’t solve the problem, but we need to continue to have these conversations and highlight improvements and awareness.
‘Happened in a split second’
Walking up O’Connell Street after a night out about 10 years ago (in jeans), about three metres ahead of my husband and mates, I was groped. When I shouted at the stranger to f**k off, he knocked me to the ground and started hitting me. It happened in a split second. The lads chased him then, but if I had been alone, I’d have been hurt even worse. I’ve experienced all the usual too, for example, carrying keys in hand, being afraid of creeps following me, sleazy taxi men, being called a c**t for refusing men, etc.
‘I worry that he did it again’
In my fifth year of secondary school, on my way to a school-play rehearsal, I was walking through the grounds of the Christian Brothers’ school in Artane when someone came up behind me. I had sensed someone coming and, expecting one of the lads from the rehearsal, I slowed down. Unfortunately, the rehearsal had been cancelled, but I never “got the memo”.
He put one arm around me, pinning my arms down, and one hand over my mouth. He started pulling me back towards a bin-storage area off the path and said, “If you scream now you stupid b**ch, I’ll kill you.” As he was moving me towards the ground I managed to get one hand to the hand he had over my mouth. I dug in my nails as hard as I could, got some of his fingers away, and I screamed. He said “You b**ch” as he pushed me to the ground and ran off. I crawled to the boys’ school where a man was washing the floors. I was incoherent with fright.
He got a teacher. I remember very little after that, other than I was made to sit for what seemed like ages, waiting for someone to bring me home. Nobody called the gardaí. I was brought home by a brother from the monastery, who told my parents that he would “look after things”. I never gave a statement to the gardaí. To this day, almost 30 years later, it still haunts me. It alters my behaviour. I avoid walking on my own after dark and occasionally get completely spooked and terrified if being out alone after dark is unavoidable.
I often wonder if the gardaí ever knew. Was there any investigation at all? Did the brothers know who did it? But, most of all, I worry that he did it again. At the time I remember being asked if I thought it was “one of the lads playing a joke”. There was nothing funny about it.
‘Men’s unwillingness to recognise the extent of the problem’
I was raped, quite violently, by two young men when I was 19. I never told the police about being raped – and, given the experiences of other girls and women, unfortunately this was probably the right choice.
I was young, I had had a few drinks with those boys and I had gone willingly to their house, not imagining what was going to happen. About six weeks later, still bleeding, I got the courage to go to a doctor for help. He told me it was my fault, suggested that I was on drugs (I wasn’t) and had a “lifestyle problem”, and then told me to take my shirt off as he needed to check my breasts. I am almost angrier with the doctor.
One of the things I like about being middle-aged now is that there is much less harassment from men
When I was in my 30s, travelling with a small child, a man sitting beside me on a flight started masturbating through his trousers and whispering, “Look at it, look at it.” We just got up and sat somewhere else. By that stage, behaviour like this made me feel more tired than anything else. I am in my late 40s now and while I was harassed much more when I was young, it still hasn’t stopped completely.
On a train a year ago, a group of men were harassing me and other women on the carriage. Everyone, including me, and including the other men on the train, was too scared to confront them. We all just looked at our phones. The only train employee in evidence was a young lad of about 19 who was selling coffee and he looked terrified. I don’t blame anyone for not confronting them: it was the right thing to do as they were drinking and out of control, and the situation could have escalated rapidly. Thankfully they got out in Bray.
One of the things I like about being middle-aged now is that there is much less harassment from men. My 20s often felt like an obstacle course when you could be asked for a blowjob, leered at or ordered to smile every second time you left the house to go to Spar.
The above are just some of the experiences that I have had in my life so far – I could go on about the flashers and the gropers, but I am sure you will hear plenty of those stories from others, and to judge by my female friends’ accounts, they are very common.
I have often been disappointed by so many men’s unwillingness to recognise the extent of the problem and so many others’ insistence that women are lying or exaggerating when they try to discuss it. I don’t see how this problem can be confronted when so many men seem to be extremely invested in minimising it.
‘I have accepted that there is risk to being a female’
When I heard about Sarah Everard’s body being found and that a police officer had been charged with her kidnap and murder, immediately three separate instances of sexual harassment I had experienced came to mind. One of them included being picked up outside a pub by the guys I was talking to, one of whom I knew, and being put in the back of a blacked-out van and driven away.
Each of the instances was terrifying and traumatic, and even though all were more than 20 years ago, everything – the faces, the clothes, the smells, the weather at the time, the blackness of that van, etc – is etched in my memory. I remember fighting back, saying no and being laughed at. I remember realising that at no point did they understand that what they were doing was wrong or that not having my full consent was an issue.
I never walk or run after dark, or in secluded or wooded areas, on my own. My entire life is lived within those confines. I have accepted that there is risk to being a female of slight build. I can be easily picked up. I can be swept away quite easily and so I limit myself and the things I do and the places that I go. It is not fully living.
‘I couldn’t believe it happened in broad daylight’
I was in the city centre walking with my husband. Suddenly I felt a painful slap on my buttocks. Looking behind, I saw a man running away. Everyone in the surrounding area was alarmed as the slap was loud. My husband held me afterwards as we continued walking. I was shaken and couldn’t believe it happened in broad daylight.
‘I lay flat on the ground behind a low wall’
I am a middle-aged woman and should have known better than to be walking home from a friend’s house at 2.30am on a Sunday. Normally, I would leave my friend’s house slightly earlier and feel safe walking as there would be plenty of traffic passing.
This time was different. I hurried along the empty street, all long hair and flowing scarf, like a red flag to potential attackers. I was halfway home when a white van crossed lanes and parked a little way ahead of me. I was immediately suspicious but quickly dismissed the feeling as an overreaction on my part. A few steps closer and I could no longer deny the gut feeling that something wasn’t right and so I turned and walked in the direction I had come.
Glancing over my shoulder, I could see the van had now turned around and was facing me. I began to run, keeping close to the buildings so they couldn’t see me. I could hear the van approaching, so I lay flat on the ground behind a low wall. The van passed very slowly. I lay there until the van was out of sight – and, praise be, I made it home safe.
What’s the takeaway here? I’ll tell you now: 40-plus years of being in a state of high alert when walking at night told me a white van pulling up in front of me on a Saturday night was bad news. I know for certain that my younger self would not have been so streetwise. It’s a learned skill, one that teaches females to hide your long hair and wear trousers, have eyes on the back of your head and constantly plan escape routes as you make your way home.
When I eventually got home that night I rang the gardaí and told them. I really hoped they found that van as I’m quite sure that these animals were using my hometown as a hunting ground. My hometown has been dubbed the prostitution capital of Ireland. As this reputation has grown, so too have sexual assaults on the streets of this ordinary Irish town.
‘I feel quite safe on the streets of Dublin’
Before Covid I was regularly out in Dublin city centre at night – often in a miniskirt and heels – and over the years I have never been attacked or even ended up in a situation where I felt in danger or frightened. So I have to say that I feel, and for years have felt, quite safe on the streets of Dublin.
‘It’s not okay to look the other way any more’
At first thought, I don’t consider myself to have experienced harassment based on my gender – I would see myself as one of the lucky ones. But then I stop and really think. And multiple examples come flooding back of times I was put in dangerous situations at the hand of a man that should never have happened, and I realise that it’s actually something we bury, ignore and move past.
We’re expected to put up and shut up – and, for the large part, we do. But we shouldn’t have to. When I was six or so, a man tried to take me into a lifeguard hut on Portmarnock Beach, but I ran and escaped. When I was 14, a man approached me in his car. I had to escape by running and hiding in a neighbour’s garden as he slowly drove down the street, looking for me.
We’re so often made to feel like we’re making a mountain out of a molehill, but they wouldn’t feel that way if they could walk in our shoes and experience what it’s like for us
I’ve been groped and grabbed more times than I can count. I love music and going to gigs and music festivals, and so many times I’ve been enjoying the live act when someone grabs my bum. You look around to see who did it to be met with multiple men all avoiding your glance, so there’s no way of knowing and no way of doing anything about it other than moving to a different spot. I’ve been cat-called and asked out on dates, by older men, when I’ve been walking in my school uniform – clearly underage. When working in hospitality, I’ve been expected to smile politely as men, old enough to be my father, drunkenly leer at my body and find excuses to put their hands on me. I’ve seen multiple men target the drunkest friend in my group – one resulting in sexual assault, where our friend was left alone and a man went and found where we had put her to bed.
Men dismiss the conversation now by saying what happened to Sarah Everard is extremely rare, and thankfully it is. But what’s not rare are the hundreds of other instances in the lead-up to a rape or murder. Instances that we love to ignore, move on from, make excuses for, make light of. There’s giving people the benefit of the doubt and then there’s blatantly excusing a friend’s consistent patterns of crossing the line and breaking the boundaries of women unfortunate enough to cross their path. Women are sick of being the lone voices calling this out. We see it all the time, with school friends, college friends, family members.
We’re so often made to feel like we’re making a mountain out of a molehill, but they wouldn’t feel that way if they could walk in our shoes and experience what it’s like for us growing up as girls into women. It’s just not okay to look the other way any more: we need men on our side, standing up for us for once.
‘I don’t want my daughter to accept this as normal’
My story is every woman’s. Every girl’s. I am a 39-year-old professional mother of three. I am from a supportive and happy home. I am normal, whatever that means. From puberty, I received cat-calls, comments, looks. They were intimidating but accepted as just the way things are. I have been groped by strange men, and men known to me, dozens of times. On public transport, in pubs, at work events, in my own home. I am whistled at when out running in the afternoon. My buttocks have been squeezed, breasts touched, unwanted advances made, and continued, despite my saying no.
I have accepted this as something girls and women have to accept and manage. What I would have shrugged off before, I do not accept now. I don’t want my four-year-old daughter to accept this as normal, as I did. I don’t want my six- and one-year-old sons to grow up in a society where this type of behaviour by some men is tolerated. All people are deserving of respect. All people should be treated with respect.