Colette Sheridan: Stalking and harassment is a male issue and the blight of women

What a terrible indictment of our society that half of us are afraid or, at best, attuned to the dangers of being a woman alone after dark, says Colette Sheridan
Colette Sheridan: Stalking and harassment is a male issue and the blight of women

Una Ring at Youghal, who has spoken out about being stalked. Picture: Larry Cummins.

WHAT should have been a pleasant five minute walk through a park to a pub in London recently, where 28-year-old Sabina Nessa was to meet a friend, ended in the murder of this well-respected teacher.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has called violence against women and girls “an epidemic” and called on men to be “allies”.

This is where we’re at in the war on women.

And if you think I’m exaggerating in using the word ‘war’, you only have to take note of last week’s survey of more than 2,700 women carried out by Newstalk, asking them about their experiences and fears of being out alone at night.

Why should we be scared of being out and about after dark? But the survey found that almost nine out of ten Irish women feel uncomfortable walking alone in the dark, while nearly two-thirds said they’d been verbally harassed.

Some 13% of women said they have been attacked after dark, with 60% saying they have been verbally harassed. More than 36% of women said they have been followed while walking home.

If you’re old enough to remember the ‘reclaim the night’ marches from decades ago, organised by women’s groups, it’s depressing to realise that no real progress has been made.

We are still potential victims as prey for a minority of men - twisted men who hate women.

Sadiq Khan has gone so far as saying that misogyny should be made a hate crime and harassment in a public space against women should be a criminal offence.

According to a UN survey, 97% of women between the ages of 18 and 24 have been sexually harassed.

It doesn’t augur well for bringing up girls. What are you supposed to say to them so that they’re alerted to danger but are not turned into nervous wrecks and man haters? And as for bringing up boys, toxic masculinity needs to be called out. And boys need to learn to be empathetic. Instead of going with the pack and abusing women, they should be principled enough to refuse to take part in such activity - and mentally strong enough to point out to their peers that harassing females is pathetic behaviour. How would they like it if their mothers or sisters were treated this way?

As Senator Erin McGreehan said last week, the harassment and abuse of women is a male issue.

“It is not our fault that we are potential victims. It is their fault that they are potential criminals,” she said.

Stories of harassment and assault of women were shared for the Newstalk survey. One woman said that when she was 17, she was walking home after school and got on the Luas.

“This person followed me onto the Luas and proceeded to put their hand up my school skirt and people just sat there when it happened,” the woman recalled.

Another said: “I was grabbed outside my own home by a young man who followed me off the bus. I fought him off. I never walk alone after dark. In fact, I never go out alone after dark except in my car.”

A woman said she was “surrounded by four men in Dublin city centre before midnight who sexually harassed me with multiple bystanders. I was just after leaving my friends to catch a taxi less than five minutes away.”

One women who was assaulted in 2018 on a night out has not been on a night out since.

“I still live a wonderful and fulfilled life but I do not feel safe in my own city,” she said.

What a terrible indictment of our society that half of us are afraid or, at best, attuned to the dangers of being a woman alone after dark.

Senator Lisa Chambers has said that our current laws on harassment do not adequately protect women from predatory men. She has proposed that a new crime of stalking be put on the statute book with a sentence of at least ten years.

The definition of stalking in the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Stalking (Amendment) Bill is “repeated, unwanted behaviour that occurs as a result of a fixation or obsession and causes alarm, distress or harm to the victim and to provide for related matters.” Similar laws are on the statute books in England, Scotland and Wales for over ten years and have resulted in a tripling of stalking reports between 2014 and 2018.

Senator Chambers brought forward the Bill after hearing the experiences of Cork stalking victim Una Ring and Sligo woman Eve McDowell. Una’s stalker, 52 year-old James Steele from Rosscarberry, was sentenced to seven years, with the last two suspended, at Cork Circuit Criminal Court after pleading guilty to charges of harassment, attempted burglary with intent to rape, and possession of articles with intent to cause a crime. Can we please reclaim the nights?

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