Ashling Murphy murder was a ‘watershed moment’

The death of Ashling Murphy resulted in a collective trauma that manifested through vigils and memorials in January 2022.

Hundreds gathered at a rally outside Leinster House, organised by the National Women’s Council, to call for an end to gender-based violence.

One woman in attendance said she had been attending vigils like the one in memory of Ashling Murphy for 40 years as part of Reclaim the Night.

The movement which originated in Leeds in the 1970s demanded that women be able to move through public spaces at night.

“We started Reclaim the Night back in the 1980s, and nothing has changed,” she told RTÉ News.

In the days following the Leinster House rally, there was an outpouring of solidarity with Ms Murphy’s family at vigils in towns and cities nationwide.

They were also held around the world in London, Edinburgh, Dubai, Australia and Canada.

Director of the National Women’s Council Orla O’Connor

Director of the National Women’s Council Orla O’Connor believes it was a watershed moment.

“I think that people really felt that something needed to be done about violence against women, and it hadn’t been taken seriously enough,” Ms O’Connor said.

“It wasn’t being taken seriously enough. Women really felt this was a point of no return.”

January 2022 was a year since the death of 33-year-old Sarah Everard in the UK, who was stopped by off-duty Metropolitan Police Constable Wayne Couzens when she was walking home from a friend’s house in London.

He handcuffed her, placed her in his car, raped and strangled her, before burning her body and disposing of her remains.

Ms Everard’s death resulted in the internalised fears of women being expressed on social media.

Ms Murphy’s death reignited those concerns.

Young women in Tullamore who spoke to RTÉ’s Western Correspondent Pat McGrath expressed regret that they could not go out without watching their backs.

They also pointed out that they had felt like that prior to January 2022.

Ms O’Connor says it’s an experience for women all over the world.

“That’s why we need to take it with the seriousness that it deserves, because it’s limiting women’s lives so much in terms of the choices they can make and the freedom that they have in their lives,” she said.

The Government had been working on a strategy to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence; however, services on the front line believe that Ms Murphy’s death accelerated its implementation.

It is the third strategy of its kind since 2010.

A surge in calls to domestic and sexual violence helplines run by frontline services during the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the need for these services to be addressed.

Initiatives launched by the Government during the pandemic were put into the five-year strategy which was launched after Ms Murphy’s death and more were introduced.

This month tougher sentences for domestic violence became law. In cases of non-fatal strangulation or suffocation causing serious harm, there is now a maximum sentence of up to life imprisonment.

An agency that will implement the commitments outlined in the strategy will begin its work early next year.

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Chief Executive of Women’s Aid Sarah Benson

The CEO of Women’s Aid Sarah Benson has warned that the work required to reach the aspiration of zero tolerance of domestic sexual and gender-based violence must not be squandered.

“There seems to be a public appetite aligned with dedicated services like ourselves and the other domestic and sexual violence services and the political will to really dig in and prevent the structural inequalities,” Ms Benson said.

“The misogyny that leads to these horrendous acts of violence, I just hope that won’t be squandered now that the conversation has started”.

Ms Benson points out that Ms Murphy, is one of 263 women who have died in violent circumstances since 1996.

“That’s 263 families and communities who are devastated,” she said.

“We can’t bring those women back. But in the future, we have to make sure that, we have those hard conversations, that we have the legislation, we have the supports and the services, and we have the education for our young people around equality and respect, which will mean future generations don’t have to live with this as a crime in our society.”

Ms O’Connor believes Irish society is not even near a zero-tolerance approach when it comes to misogyny and sexism.

“Male violence is a huge reality and I think one of the things that really happened in the aftermath of Ashling Murphy’s murder was all of the experiences that women spoke about from sexual harassment to sexual violence was part of everyday life and that’s still the case,” she said.

“There is so much more that we need to do, because we have the right to live in a society that’s free from male violence. We all have to play our part in it, but we have a long road to go.”

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