The Irish Times view on violence against women: the right to live without fear

The moment calls for zero tolerance towards male violence and aggression

In towns and cities across Ireland, includign Belfast (above), crowds gathered at vigils to honour Ashling Murphy and to demand a society in which a woman can go for a run without any fear. Photograph: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

In towns and cities across Ireland, includign Belfast (above), crowds gathered at vigils to honour Ashling Murphy and to demand a society in which a woman can go for a run without any fear. Photograph: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

 

Inexplicable. Rare. Isolated. Out of nowhere. The murder of Ashling Murphy has been called all of these things. It’s perhaps not surprising, in response to an act as unspeakable as the murder of a young woman while out for a jog in broad daylight, that our instinct can be to reach for words to place that horror beyond the realm of our ordinary human experience. But whatever comfort we draw from that rhetorical distancing, the truth is that we know that the heinous murder in Tullamore on Wednesday afternoon fits a long-established pattern.

Ashling Murphy, a young teacher and an accomplished musician who was just starting out in life, joins a long list of women whose names are etched in our public memory. Jastine Valdez. Ana Kriegel. Nadine Lott. Elaine O’Hara. Manuela Riedo. Rachel Kiely. Rachel O’Reilly. Siobhan McLaughlin. Sr Philomena Lyons. Celine Cawley. The list goes on. Some 244 women have been killed in the State since 1996, according to Women’s Aid. Of those cases that were resolved, 87 per cent were perpetrated by a man known to the victim, and 13 per cent were committed by a stranger. The women listed above were killed in different times and in different circumstances, but in every case one thing remained constant: these are crimes that men commit.

The solutions one proffers will depend on one’s grasp of the scale of this crisis. If you think violence against women is vanishingly rare, your policy prescriptions will be modest: better road lighting, Garda patrols, personal alarms, and so on. You will advise women to adapt their behaviour to the threat they face: don’t go out alone, stay in touch, vary your route. But to appreciate the true dimensions of this epidemic is to understand that violence against women is a continuum that includes murder but encompasses the countless other forms of assault, sexism, harassment, bullying and misogyny that women endure every day of the week. These are not discrete, disconnected problems. Failing to see that they originate from the same place is to guarantee, even to tolerate, their continuance.

Instead, the moment calls for us to recognise the pattern and to show zero tolerance towards the male violence and aggression that lies behind it. That would require action from Government but it would also ask searching questions of the criminal justice and education systems, and perhaps most of all from so-called good men who may not see themselves as part of the problem but have such an important role to play in fixing it.

In towns and cities across Ireland on Friday, crowds gathered at moving vigils to honour Ashling Murphy and to demand a society in which a woman can go for a run without any fear. That presumption of safety should be a basic condition of life in Ireland. Women have lived in fear for long enough.

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