It feels completely insurmountable, doesn’t it? I forgot to eat all day, I stayed in bed longer than I should have. I don’t really think I’m going to be murdered, because I see myself as the exception to most rules; so do almost all people, I suppose. I forgot to drink water too. It feels wrong to grieve this, this event that we had nothing to do with, this life we didn’t really know anything about until it was gone. This is usually how violence against women operates — it’s very quiet, until it’s not.
The weirdest thing about the day was that I can remember a number of distinct times that I have lived it. I lived it on the DART from Bayside to Tara Street, scrolling endlessly through tweets about the result of the Belfast Rape Trial. I lived it further from home: articles and poems and books covering The People v. Brock Turner. Then there was the day Sarah Everard was killed, the day of the vigil, and the day we discovered that it was an agent of the state who murdered her.
All these days do the same thing: they remind us of what we have always known; they are institutions of misogyny flying into the window over and over, as if they are living and breathing, as if they are desperate to remind us that they exist.
There’s always a bubbling fury at the idea of #NotAllMen, which is righteous and fair. But this fury is a blunt tool. We must ask ourselves: what men? And under what circumstances? Why does intimate partner violence account for the vast majority of femicides, and how do we stop that? People have had a number of suggestions.
The most troubling of these suggestions is increased police presence; the idea that, if there were just more Gardai around, things may have been different. This sits uncomfortably against what the political apparatus of policing ended up doing: interning the wrong man, releasing his details to the media, and sparking a racist fury against not his masculinity, or ostensible violent behaviour, but his ethnic identity.
The presumption that more police presence could have saved Ashling Murphy spits in the face of the many victims of gendered violence who have been routinely failed by the police. Dara Quigley took her own life after a member of the Gardaí used his powers as a state agent to obtain CCTV footage of her running down the street naked during a mental health crisis, shared that footage into a WhatsApp group, before it spread across the internet. In the United States, research suggests that family violence is four times higher in the law enforcement community than the general population; similar research has not been undertaken in Ireland. Sarah Everard, it is worth repeating, was murdered by a member of the Metropolitan Police Service. The same service showed up in droves to Everard’s vigil, and roughly handled many female protestors. There are pictures, they are horrible.
“The common thread here is that members of the police have historically used their power to exercise violence upon women, not prevent that violence. Even when they are not actively perpetrating violence, Irish police seem to be ignoring it.”
Are these aberrations? The common thread here is that members of the police have historically used their power to exercise violence upon women, not prevent that violence. Even when they are not actively perpetrating violence, Irish police seem to be ignoring it — over 3,000 999 calls were marked ‘cancelled’ by Gardai in 2019-2020, many of which were related to domestic violence. Given this, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to bristle at the idea that they are a major part of the solution. Reading about the police’s (recent, let’s remember) history, how can we feel safe going to them for help?
This, really, is the insurmountable bit of it all: if the police can’t help, who can? It’s unclear what women can do but lock ourselves at home. Over the past few weeks, we have heard over and over again that Ashling Murphy was out for a run at 4pm — just before daylight fell. It makes sense that we’re scared, that we don’t want to occupy space. But it’s important to remember to live, I think.
“The streets are ours too. We deserve them during the day, and we deserve them at night; we deserve them when we’re sober and when we’re drunk.”
Violence against women is an epidemic, but it’s not one which will go away politely; Instagram infographics and men promising you that they’re one of the good ones won’t fix this. The streets are ours too. We deserve them during the day, and we deserve them at night; we deserve them when we’re sober and when we’re drunk. Women have always been good at creating community for survival — we share our lipsticks and our live locations, we make whisper networks, and we warn girls we know and don’t know about the men who have hurt us. These communities are not to be underestimated; we are so much stronger than we think.
“But through all my little precautions and rituals, nothing has made me feel stronger or safer than standing outside Dáil Eireann, my body folded into a sea of others mourning someone they did not know, but felt they understood.”
I have loved and continue to love many men; I have looked into their eyes and wondered if they would ever hurt me, I have made them promise they would not. I have also taken a self-defence class. I’ve doubled back and I have been too careful. Sometimes it has worked and sometimes it hasn’t. But through all my little precautions and rituals, nothing has made me feel stronger or safer than standing outside Dáil Eireann, my body folded into a sea of others mourning someone they did not know, but felt they understood. A woman beside me struggled to light a candle with a match, and I gave her my lighter. She nodded, lit the tea-light, handed it back, and turned back to the steps of the Dáil.
The traditional Irish music could be heard down the entire stretch of Kildare Street, thousands of women listening together. We will be okay, I think. We are stronger than this violence.