TV stokes a fear of crime among women, but we DO live in a safe time and place

Ireland's murder rate is low and falling, and technology means we have never been safer on our streets, says JOHN DOLAN
TV stokes a fear of crime among women, but we DO live in a safe time and place

SCARE TACTICS: Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan in The Fall — one of many crime dramas which feature a male stranger killing young women.

JUDGING by the array of them that are pumped into our living rooms on various TV platforms on a daily basis, we all love a good crime drama.

From the sweeping cliffs of Broadchurch to the mean streets of Dublin, and from the quaint rural haunts of Midsomer to a Caribbean isle paradise, murder most foul is always just a press of the remote control away.

But, the mind-boggling variety of landscapes aside, it’s uncanny how many of the zipped-up body bags in these series end up containing young women.

Whether it’s professionals being targeted by a serial killer in The Fall, a teenage victim of an apparently sacrificial killing in Dublin Murders, or a sex worker being slain in True Detective, female actors will certainly never run short of roles playing dead.

And if you miss one crime drama where women are victims, another is bound to come along soon.

The Italian series Thou Shalt Not Kill returns for a third run on the All 4 UK channel tonight and its plot follows a familiar trope. In this case, a grisly crime involving an 18-year-old girl whose handless corpse has been discovered. It transpires her twin sister was also found dead a few months earlier...

Two female victims there for the price of one.

When it’s not fictional dramas, TV is often offering us even more terrifying real-life murder cases.

Next week, the UK’s Channel 5 is showing a documentary on the so-called Black Cab Rapist, who attacked more than 100 victims in the back of his taxi between 2000 and 2008.

Whether fact or fiction, these TV programmes more often than not feature as their centre-point a young female being randomly murdered by a male stranger.

Why is this?

Clearly, seeing innocent women fall prey to evil men plays into a deep-seated fear in society. 

It’s not just a fear women have, it also plays into the protective instinct of male viewers. A win/win for TV producers.

The downside of such an unhealthy obsession with seeing women as perennial murder victims, is it can lead to an irrational fear in wider society. The boogey man’s gonna get ya, as the song goes.

It is worth reminding ourselves that your average common or garden murder is far more likely to be along the lines of TV shows such as Love/Hate or Peaky Blinders — male on male violence, and all too often gang-related.

Indeed, when it comes to murder, the chances of anyone, man or woman, falling prey to a stranger in the style of a TV crime series is vanishingly small.

This is even more so the case in Ireland, and in 2021.

It may surprise some people, but the murder rate in this country has been falling for two decades. Statistically, Ireland is a very safe country for men and for women, and 2021 is about as safe a time as it is possible to live in.

Sarah Everard, 33, who was found murdered after going missing while walking home from a friend's house.
Sarah Everard, 33, who was found murdered after going missing while walking home from a friend's house.

It was worth bearing this in mind after the country responded with fear and outrage to the tragic death in the UK last week of Sarah Everard.

Yes, we all, particularly, unfortunately, women, need to keep our wits about us when alone at night, but we must also guard against an unhealthy obsession with the fear of crime itself.

Ireland has the 11th lowest homicide rate in Europe and the 23rd lowest in the world, according to a United Nations study.

It revealed in 2019 that Ireland had a homicide rate of 0.9 per 100,000 people, compared to 1.1 in 2013, and 1.8 in 2007, while for the continent of Europe it is currently 3 per 100,000.

To put things into perspective, the murder rate in the fictional county of Midsomer has been estimated at 32 per million. In Murder, She Wrote, Jessica Fletcher’s sleepy home town of Cabot Cove has a rate of 1,490 murders per million!

It’s not just the sheer volume of fictional murders on TV, but their nature that diverges from reality.

Typically, men make up more than twice the number of murder victims in any given year. Of female murder victims, more than three-quarters knew their killer.

A few years back, researchers in the U.S ascertained that crime-related shows on TV tended to emphasise incorrect gendered depictions of victims of crime. They were most likely to be portrayed as female instead of male, when the reverse was the case.

One reason for the falling rate of murder in recent years may be down to the fact we are lucky to live in a time when smartphones and CCTV are commonplace, and help just a press of a button away.

This was not so just a couple of decades ago.

Think of the terrible cases of the several women who went missing in the so-called ‘Vanishing Triangle’ in Leinster in the late 1999s, which many speculate was the work of one man.

One of the missing women was last seen with a male in a pub — if that happened now, imagine all the footage we could call upon to trace the suspect. Another was last seen using a payphone. These women today would have been carrying smartphones and that fact alone would act as a huge deterrent to any would-be abductor.

Of course, it’s not just murder that women have spoken out about in the wake of the death of Sarah Everard, it’s the all-too-frequent harassments many of them report from lone males, which can lead to a range of emotions from feeling uncomfortable to downright frightening.

This is certainly an aspect of crime that we can and should focus on tackling.

Although I would always be wary myself of walking in certain areas in the dark, I realise I have more freedom on that front than women. For what it’s worth, in my younger days, when walking home from a pub or club at night, if I found myself walking near a lone woman, I would cross the road or even change my route to avoid stressing them. I’ve since heard other men do this too.

Although some proposals — such as one in the UK for all men to be subject to a 6pm curfew — are daft and unworkable, we could certainly look into setting aside outdoor areas where only women can walk, jog and exercise.

Such areas would need to be kept under surveillance, round the clock if necessary, to ensure they are the safe havens women need.

I don’t blame women for being angry about the losses to their freedom simply being born a certain gender forces upon them but, being practical, it’s difficult to conceive of a time and place when this will not be the case.

Sadly, all of us have a duty to be eternally vigilant to avoid becoming a victim of crime, and men in particular need to make it clear to other men that certain types of behaviour towards women are simply unacceptable.

It’s best if this is done in a culture of calmness and practicality, rather than in one of outrage and over-reaction regarding the falsely perceived dangers on this country’s streets.

As they used to say when they signed off on the BBC TV series Crimewatch: don’t have nightmares, do sleep well.

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