​​‘She was just going for a run’: when will women be safe from violence?

Megan Baker is a second year undergraduate History student at King’s. She is particularly interested in women’s unpaid care responsibilities, maternity leave provision, reproductive rights and violence against women.

On 15 January 2022, 23-year-old teacher and musician Ashling Murphy was killed when going for a run on the banks of the Grand Canal located in County Offaly, in the Republic of Ireland. The police have yet to find her killer; thousands of people attended vigils for Murphy in Cork and Dublin on Saturday in remembrance, and other vigils were due to occur in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, and Brisbane. Many of the signs protested that ‘she was just going for a run’, left in shock that women can be senselessly murdered for going about their everyday lives.

I recently saw a tweet that resonated with me, which stated that ‘every single woman has a story of a time she was made to feel uncomfortable (at best) or terrified (the usual) by a man whether she knew him or he was a stranger.’ In March 2021, a YouGov survey for UN Women UK revealed that four-fifths of young women in the UK have been sexually harassed. Women are used to being scared when out alone – most women that I know always carry personal alarms with them and would not leave home unaccompanied at night. The murder of Murphy, as well as the thousands of other women murdered every year, only confirms what we all know to be the terrifying truth: women are not safe alone on the streets. The fact that Murphy was killed doing something as mundane as ‘going for a run’ makes us fear even stepping outside the house.

The Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin said on the Late, Late Show on RTÉ that men should ‘listen more to women’. ‘We need to listen to what women are saying to us,’ he added. ‘Men need to step up to the plate here and make sure we can create a different kind of society where people feel safe and transform the culture that underpins bad behaviour and violence towards women.’ Although men indeed need to listen to women, for the time being, this is just talk. The government needs to take concrete steps to protect women and girls.

After Murphy’s death, Michael Healy-Rae, the Teachta Dála (TD, the Irish equivalent of an MP) for Kerry in the Republic of Ireland, argued that women should be legally allowed to carry pepper spray to protect themselves. However, this is problematic as the emphasis for keeping women safe should be on men, not on women. Women are often forced to do ‘safety work’, which includes avoiding walking at night alone, paying for taxis and taking longer routes home. However, as demonstrated time and time again, it does not matter how women act; ultimately it is up to men to stop attacking women. Politicians should be campaigning in favour of policies to end male violence against women, tackling the root cause of the problem.

Murphy’s murder is all too reminiscent of Sarah Everard’s murder by a policeman in Clapham in March 2021. In addition, last month saw Koci Selamaj accept responsibility for the death of 28-year-old teacher Sabina Nessa in London in September. At the time of Everard’s murder, there had been talk of increasing the number of police officers, or even for women to flag down buses or to run away from potential predators. However, since then nothing significant has been done to make women safer on the streets. How many more women have to die before the government starts taking violence against women seriously?

The organisation End Violence Against Women argues that the prevention of violence needs to start in schools, giving children and young people information about consent and respectful relationships in order to end violence against women and girls. Furthermore, the government needs to run public campaigns to prevent sexual harassment in public spaces. Tackling harmful media is also important to prevent misogynistic portrayals of women and girls, many of which contribute to the perpetuation of inequality and violence.

Although it is absolutely heartbreaking that Murphy was murdered while ‘only going for a run’, women are no less deserving of violence even if they were engaging in sex work, illegal activities, drunk, or having taken drugs. All women, regardless of their choices, deserve to go about their lives in peace.

Bibliography

Jessica Black, ‘Ashling Murphy: ‘What happened to her could have happened to me’, BBC News, 14 January 2022. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-60002884     

‘Ashling Murphy: Pictures of vigils for murdered teacher’, BBC News, 14 January 2022. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-59999589 

Stephen Fernane, ‘Women should have the right to use pepper spray to defend themselves’, Independent, 14 January 2022. https://www.independent.ie/regionals/kerryman/news/women-should-have-the-right-to-use-pepper-spray-to-defend-themselves-41241901.html      

Alexandra Topping, ‘Four-fifths of young women in the UK have been sexually harassed, survey finds’, Guardian, 10 March 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/10/almost-all-young-women-in-the-uk-have-been-sexually-harassed-survey-finds 

‘Preventing abuse’, End Violence Against Women. https://www.endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk/preventing-abuse/  

Twitter, 13 January 2022. https://twitter.com/pitbullstan69/status/1481602518790643712 

[Featured image sourced from BBC News.]

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