Lisa Fallon: ‘He told me he would have to kill me because I had seen his face’

In 1995, whilst walking home from a night out, I was attacked by a man I didn’t know

Flowers are left near the scene of the murder of Ashling Murphy, on the banks of the Grand Canal, in Tullamore, Co Offaly. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Flowers are left near the scene of the murder of Ashling Murphy, on the banks of the Grand Canal, in Tullamore, Co Offaly. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Enough is enough. It has to stop.

My heart is broken for Ashling Murphy, the two women who disturbed her attacker and her family and friends. All their lives have been changed forever.

Ashling Murphy was going for a run.

As part of her journey, she jogged along ‘Fiona’s Way’ in Tullamore, a popular walking and running area. It was 4pm in the afternoon and on her run she was killed.

Fiona was Fiona Pender, a 25-year-old pregnant woman who disappeared from the same area in 1996.

Ashling was Ashling Murphy, a 23-year-old primary school teacher who was senselessly killed whilst out for a run.

And lads, this is not a woman’s problem. The problem is with men.

And there are three types.

Men and boys who believe they are superior, and entitled to behave in ways that threaten, abuse and scare women.

Then there are men and boys who don’t behave this way but say and do nothing. Who witness abuse but let it go.

Lastly, there are a minuscule few who stand up and say ‘no, this is not right’.

It has to stop. Because it’s everywhere.

On Wednesday evening, my 20-year-old daughter came in the door at 6.30pm shaking because a guy on the bus was staring her out of it the whole way home from town. She was on her way home from college and had to phone me, two stops before hers, to ask me to be there to collect her because she was worried he would get off and follow her. He was freaking her out.

Last week I got a call from a female coach, who is doing great things. She completed a free female-only coaching course to help build her confidence, yet on the grass, every week, she is being harassed, bullied and undermined by male coaches, parents and administrators at her club.

I hear so many stories like this one. Far too often.

Only the other day I was reading an article published on January 10th, 2022 entitled: Gendered micro-aggressions towards the “only” women coaches in high-performance sport, by Leanne Norman and Richard Simpson of Leeds Beckett University.

They found that as women have gained more rights and opportunities in wider society in recent years it has become “less acceptable to maintain or vocalise biases”.

What really rang true for me was that “sexism in coaching has become less overt and seemingly less directed at individuals, and more covert and ambiguous, embedded in structures”.

Societal problem

Micro-aggressions are defined as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities” that communicate “hostile slights and insults towards members of oppressed groups”.

Micro-aggressions rely on the fact that they can often be so covert or unconscious that they are difficult to identify, making them “powerful mechanisms of minimising or dismissing discrimination by powerful and dominant groups”.

We have to acknowledge that this is a societal problem.

There were people who knew who he was and what he had done who said nothing

How many men have gone running with a key primed between their fingers? You know, just in case they are attacked by a random woman. How many men have felt their heart rate spike due to fear of an unknown female or females walking behind them? How many men have crossed the road to avoid females coming towards them? How many men have learned some form of self-protection?

You know, just in case?

As a society we have to acknowledge we are not in a good place. I do not know many women who would go for a run down the canal, day or night. Many wouldn’t and I am one of them.

In 1995, whilst walking home from a night out, I was attacked by a man I didn’t know. He held me by the hair in his car so I couldn’t get away and drove to a field. Eventually I managed to get away and ran, but he caught me. When he had me back in the car, he told me he would have to kill me because I had seen his face. I begged him to let me go and promised not to tell anyone.

Said nothing

I had my denim jacket over my head, desperately trying to convince him that I couldn’t remember what he looked like. I was 18 and I thought I was going to die. Eventually he stopped the car and told me to get out. The car door slammed shut and he drove off. I had no idea where I was, but I just ran, barefoot.

I could hear a car coming back, and there was a field beside me full of thistles, so I climbed over a gate and ran straight through them, not feeling the thousands of cuts to my feet and legs. I have no idea how long I waited there.

By the time I got to the police, I couldn’t remember his face, just his teeth and hands.

There were people who knew who he was and what he had done who said nothing. During the police questioning, I was asked about wearing a dress. It was a very moderate dress. It was years before I wore one again. Longer still, every time I sat in a room, I had to be able to see where the door was, so I had a way out. I couldn’t go to a hairdresser because I couldn’t bear anyone touching my hair.

I was just walking home.

Ashling was just going for a run.