Maria O'Donovan from Turner's Cross in Cork used to feel quite safe walking home from the city centre, even up to midnight, but an attack this week on a woman walking alone on Evergreen Street has changed things.
Now, she does not think that she will do so anymore: “I feel very strongly about it,” says O’Donovan, “There’s a cumulative effect because of what has happened [elsewhere recently].
“I feel furious about it. I’m an independent woman. The late-night thing doesn’t even come into it. Are we ever safe anymore? Is it okay that half of the people in the world are scared?”
Lara Decastro, a third-level student living in the Friars Street area, close to Evergreen Street, where the woman in her 20s was attacked last weekend shortly after 11.30pm, came to Cork four years ago from Brazil.
“When I arrived here, I felt safer than I do now,” says Decastro. “I’ve always lived in the Friars Street area. I never felt intimidated. Even walking home from the pub, alone or with my friends, I never felt threatened.
“Now, we hear of women, mostly, getting assaulted or being followed. I have a group of friends and we are sharing our experiences. It’s common to hear someone say they had a guy follow them. Now, I pay more attention to where I am.
“The region I live in was very safe. But now and then, you hear of something happening like the girl on Evergreen Street last week. Now, if I go out, I never come home by myself,” Decastro told The Irish Times.
Adam Twomey, a student at Munster Technological University, does not believe the assaults taking place can be linked to the post-Covid opening up of society.
“I think it’s a long-standing issue,” he says. “Maybe people are only noticing it now because it’s being reported more. Assaults are an issue for women for a long time. It is something that hasn’t really been addressed.
“People probably think they’ll be listened to when it happens but then nothing is done. There’s an outcry, but no action,” said Twomey, who does not always feel safe in his own city, “It depends on the time. I use taxis when I can.”
Elaine O’Sullivan, from Douglas, agrees that Cork’s streets are not as safe as before: “Covid definitely changed things. It was less busy and there was more intimidating behaviour.
“I’ve never been assaulted, but recent events have made us all conscious. I leave the city every day at six o’clock and I don’t socialise in town,” says O’Sullivan, who lays the blame for much of the problem on drug use in the city.
Rapes and assaults
Wilton-based primary school teacher Bernadette O’Driscoll says her 12-year-old sixth class pupils have talked about the Evergreen Street attack. “They’re aware of it, even at their age,” she said.
However, the director of the Sexual Violence Centre Cork, Mary Crilly, cautions that rapes and assaults have not noticeably increased, and the majority of victims still suffer at the hand of people they know.
“I do think we need to watch out for each other. People did come to her help [on Evergreen Street] which made a huge difference. We need to do more of that. People are afraid in case they’ll get injured. But there’s safety in numbers.”
Crilly lives in the city centre and goes for a walk every night: “There would be places I wouldn’t go, like towards the bus station. I’m not saying women shouldn’t go there, but stick to streets that are well-lit.”
Meanwhile, councillor for Cork City South East Lorna Bogue says the number of reported assaults on Cork's streets actually fell during the pandemic, citing figures given to Cork City Council's joint policing committees.