On 13th January, Britain woke up expecting another Covid-19 headline on their news apps. Perhaps even a breaking news story highlighting an uncovered Downing Street lockdown party. Instead, it was confronted with the violent murder of yet another woman. The murder of Ashling Murphy – a talented musician and well-respected teacher from Tullamore, Ireland. Ten months ago, the killing of Sarah Everard (a Durham alumna) raised the conversation around violence against women. We hoped that, out of her devastating death, there would be change. Apparently not. The tragedy of Ashling Murphy has left most women asking, “who’s next?” How many more women must we lose before something is done about violence against women?
Don’t go out in the dark alone! Don’t wear ‘asking for it’ clothes! Don’t go somewhere you aren’t familiar with! Women are consequently barraged with Don’ts. These Don’ts are supposed to protect us, make us less susceptible to attacks or assaults. Yet, Ashling Murphy didn’t break these ‘rules.’ It was daytime, she was going for a run, in a place that she knew – a canal way she had run on many times before. Women are constantly told ways in which we can defend ourselves. Does anyone remember the Met’s embarrassing statement that all we need to do is flag down a bus? When will the world realise that it is men who need to learn the ‘rules?’ It is time for men to play their part in ending violence against women.
Femicide has been normalised in our popular culture. Jack the Ripper is a prime example of this. A whole entertainment industry centred around books, TV shows, Halloween costumes and ghost tours has emerged on the back of this mythologised man. But what isn’t myth about this man is that he was a rapist. He committed several acts of pathological violence towards women. Why are his crimes glorified in British culture? We mustn’t allow femicide to be taken lightly. We mustn’t let it be trivialised for entertainment purposes.
Irish Times journalist, Jennifer O’Connell, in an article written after Ashling Murphy’s murder, suggested that women should not keep telling their stories. She went on to say that women “have told their stories. I think we have no stories left.” I would contest her. The press needs to prioritise publishing the stories of women like Everard and Murphy. Violence against women is not an event that happens twice a year.
Few people have heard of Samantha Heap, a 45-year-old woman who was strangled and stabbed by her neighbour in Congleton the day before Sarah Everard’s murder. Geetika Goyal lies largely forgotten, although she was stabbed 19 times in the neck by her husband the day after Everard died. If the media was consistent in its reporting of violence against women, the scale of the problem would not go unnoticed by the general population, or the government. Surely every woman who is killed by male violence deserves a front-page headline?
Sarah Everard’s murder did have an effect, albeit short-term. The government doubled the money given to the Safer Streets fund for more CCTV cameras and better street lighting. Domestic Abuse Bills have been passed through Parliament which put the UK ahead of other countries for curbing violence against women. Yet legislation can only do so much. None of this legislation would have helped Ashling. Changing attitudes seems the best solution.
Helen McEntee, the Irish Minister for Justice, spoke out after the death of Ms. Murphy, stating that the problem of violence against women could be solved “only by all of society and government working together.” Government intervention is only part of the story. Men now are part of the solution.
I’m not just talking about men in suits behind desks with big name plaques and overcomplicated job titles. ‘Ordinary’ men have incredible power in creating meaningful change. No misogynist, rapist, or violent man should have male ‘allies’. If I had to guess, I would say that 90 per cent of the Sarah Everard murder content on my Instagram was posted by women. A wiser man than me, Martin Luther King, once said: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”. Men, it is your silence on the issue of women’s violence that we will remember.
To truly stop another woman from losing her life, we need men to speak up.
Illustration: Verity Laycock