Killing of Ashling Murphy triggers debate on women’s safety

Many women ‘carrying internalised fears no matter where they are’, says Women’s Aid

Scoil Naomh Colmcille in Durrow, Co Offaly, where Ashling Murphy was a teacher. Photograph: Dara MacDónaill/The Irish Times

Scoil Naomh Colmcille in Durrow, Co Offaly, where Ashling Murphy was a teacher. Photograph: Dara MacDónaill/The Irish Times

 

The killing of primary school teacher Ashling Murphy in Co Offaly on Wednesday has prompted a wide discussion online about women’s safety. Her death has resulted in an outpouring on social media of women’s experiences and perspectives about misogyny and violence.

Ms Murphy had been out for a run on a canal towpath just outside Tullamore when she was fatally attacked on Wednesday afternoon.

For Brigid, originally from Tullamore in Co Offaly, the pathway where Ms Murphy was killed was “a familiar walk and running area” that she often took when she lived and worked locally.

“It would be quite a safe area to walk. Women would go there a lot . . . young women out exercising,” she said.

Brigid was “shocked” to hear a young woman was killed while out jogging in the area. “It triggered in me so many familiar feelings of anger and anxiety. We should be safe to go out for a walk in broad daylight . . . we shouldn’t have to look behind us constantly. But this is the way it is,” she said.

Brigid said she often worried for her daughter, who is a nurse in Dublin, and who “often changes her route out of the hospital every day, especially if she’s on a late shift”.

The incident in Co Offaly reminded her of the case of 33-year-old Sarah Everard in London last spring. Everard was kidnapped and killed by a Metropolitan Police Officer as she was walking home from a friend’s house.

“It’s a minefield. Every woman is saying this is a man’s problem. Men should be out screaming at the top of their voices for the safety of their daughters, wives and mothers.”

Justice system

Fear of violence on the street was “always there” for Brigid, and she has recently stopped walking on her own locally.

“I don’t know what women could possibly do differently. It’s the justice system that needs to change, and it’s men who need to call out misogynistic behaviour,” she said.

In Ms Murphy’s case, many people have noted that there was nothing she could have done differently. She was going for a jog at 4pm in the afternoon in a well lit and well known area.

Niamh Nic Ghabhann, a lecturer in the University of Limerick with an interest in the history of public space, said she was struck by how many people had mentioned that Ms Murphy was “in the right place at the right time”.

“It points to just how aware we are of what we think of as the wrong place and the wrong time. We have to start thinking about whether we’re building women’s safety into our cities, countryside and infrastructure,” she said.

Dr Nic Ghabhann said it was important for those involved in the design and planning of public spaces to “listen to the experiences of people experiencing gender-based violence, racial violence and violence based on sexual orientation.

“If you’re in charge of designing a new walkway or cycle path . . . you have to start understanding what that’s going to feel like for different types of people in terms of safety.”

Sindy Joyce, Traveller rights activist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Limerick, said she would be paying tribute to Ms Murphy by lighting a candle at the time of her death and attending a local vigil.

“Women need to support each other at the moment. It seems we are never safe,” said Dr Joyce.

She has previously researched young peoples’ experiences in public spaces and strategies they use to get out of difficult encounters. Thinking of the case of Ms Murphy, Dr Joyce said it was unfair that the onus is often placed on women to come up with strategies for safety.

“That should be up to our politicians and our curriculums in schools so girls can grow up without fear . . . The feelings of fear women experience when we’re just going for a walk or a run, the fact we have to bring a set of keys or walk down particular routes or change directions going to work it’s all just not acceptable. They don’t even cross the minds of most men.”

Meanwhile, women’s groups have called for “zero tolerance” of all forms of violence against women in the wake of Ms Murphy’s death.

‘Violence and abuse’

Chief executive of of Women’s Aid Sarah Bensonsaid Ms Murphy’s death was “a shocking example of the dangers posed to women by violent men. We offer our sincere condolences to Ashling’s family, friends and community. The killing of women is the extreme end of a spectrum of violence and abuse that women in Ireland and across the world experience every day.”

Women’s Aid is a national organisation working to prevent and address the impact of domestic violence and abuse. It has kept a record of the violent deaths of women in Ireland since 1996.

According to the group, 244 women have been killed since then, with 87 per cent of resolved cases being perpetrated by a man known to the victim; 13 per cent of perpetrators were strangers.

“While the killing of women by strangers is rare, they highlight the climate of fear in which women live our lives,” said Ms Benson.

The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWC) has organised a vigil in memory of Ms Murphy to take place outside the Dáil on Friday afternoon at 4pm.

“Tomorrow at 4pm, around the time Ashling was killed, we will hold a vigil to remember Ashling and to support all who knew and loved her. Women must be safe in our homes and our communities,” the council said.

People were encouraged to bring flowers or candles to the vigil and were asked to respect current public health guidance relating to Covid-19.