244 names... 244 reasons why we must end gender violence

Kathriona Devereux hopes this is a watershed moment for Ireland to finally get to grips with the complex problem of gender-based violence.
244 names... 244 reasons why we must end gender violence

Georgina O’Donnell, murdered in a nightclub in Limerick in 1998, one of the 244 women listed by Women’s Aid who died violently.

WHEN I was 17 years old, Fiona Sinnott and Deirdre Jacob went missing.

Fiona was 19 when she disappeared near her home in Wexford on a February night. Deirdre was 18 when she disappeared in Newbridge in the middle of the day on a summer afternoon in July.

I was of a similar age to the missing women, attending college in Dublin, and was very aware of the climate of fear that hung over young women at the idea of a possible serial killer in the Leinster region.

A friend of mine bore a resemblance to Deirdre Jacob and the police called to her door because someone had mis-reported her as a possible sighting of Deirdre.

Alas, Deirdre was never found. Neither was Fiona.

With the outpouring of grief by the nation at the senseless death of Ashling Murphy, there has been much discussion about gender-based violence and the deep need for a massive cultural shift to stop the violence and remove the fear and vigilance that women live under.

There have also been reminders of previous, equally tragic, stories of women whose lives were ended by men’s violence. 

While the circumstances of Deirdre or Fiona’s disappearances and deaths are imprinted in many of our memories, there are so many women we don’t remember.

Since 1996, the charity Women’s Aid has recorded and highlighted the violent deaths of women in Ireland, to remember stolen lives and try to prevent further loss of life by increasing safety for women.

Deirdre Jacob who remains missing.
Deirdre Jacob who remains missing.

On Twitter, they shared the names of 244 women who have died violently in the past 26 years. Frustratingly, many murders remain unsolved, but Women’s Aid highlighted that where cases had been resolved, 87% of women were killed by a man they knew while 13% of women were killed by a stranger. The charity urges us all to remember their names.

As I read down through the list of women, I was shocked by how few names I recognised. In 1998, Fiona and Deirdre were listed but so too were ten other women. Mandy Smyth, Joan McCarthy , Georgina O’Donnell, Sinead Kelly, Chantal Bergeron, Theresa Doherty, Christina Hackett, Marie Dillon, Siobhan Hynes, and Sheila Lynch.

I took time to read about the circumstances of their deaths online and couldn’t believe that their stories were not lodged somewhere in my memory.

Joan McCarthy, aged 47, strangled in bed while babysitting her grandchild; 20-year-old Georgina O’Donnell shot at a Limerick disco by a man who was trying to shoot his wife; 21-year-old Sinead Kelly stabbed to death on a Grand Canal bank in Dublin.

To my shame, I didn’t even recognise the photo or story of Siobhan Hynes, a 17-year-old schoolgirl murdered on a Connemara beach in December, 1998.

It’s 24 years since those women died, so perhaps I could be forgiven for not remembering them all. Maybe I wouldn’t remember Deirdre Jacob or Fiona Sinnott either, if it wasn’t for the sustained campaigns by their families over the years to find their bodies and get answers to their disappearances.

But I wasn’t familiar with Urantsetseg Tserendorj’s story either, and that poor woman only died a year ago, after being attacked on her way home from work in Dublin.

Nicola Sweeney from Cork who was murdered at her home.
Nicola Sweeney from Cork who was murdered at her home.

Since 1998, there are plenty of stories that have lodged in my mind more than others. The murder of teenager Nicola Sweeney and attack on Sinead O’Leary in Rochestown as they got ready to head out for a night. Rachel Kiely’s murder in Ballincollig Regional Park. In 2007, I remember the country convulsed at the rape and murder of Manuela Rieda, the Swiss student just three days in Galway.

Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s murder has become a worldwide story, and again in 2018 the whole country was horrified at the murder of Ana Kriegel by two 13-year-old boys.

There are so many families who are familiar with the type of pain that has come to Ashling Murphy’s family. Pain that will be borne for the rest of their lives.

The sad truth is there are so many heart-breaking stories, it is difficult to keep them all in my head and my heart. The lives ruptured, the years not lived, are impossible to contemplate.

Maybe it’s an indictment of the news cycle that stories lose momentum once the initial shock and revulsion has passed. Does the outrage subside when a violent assault or murder is not front page news?

Perhaps it’s a sign of how desensitised we’ve become to violence towards women by men, that we condemn and sympathise without really understanding or appreciating that all those deaths were avoidable.

The enormity of the harassment and abuse experienced by women on a daily basis has been highlighted in the past few weeks.

However, the enormity of the task of changing behaviours is also clear, for example an online vigil for Ashling Murphy was interrupted by a man carrying out a sex act on screen; RTÉ journalist Katie Hannon received a threatening email warning her about discussing male violence in her programme’ and many female TDs have highlighted the physical and sexual threats they receive on a regular basis.

I sincerely hope this is a watershed moment for Ireland to finally get to grips with the complex problem of gender-based violence.

We all need to keep remembering the stolen lives, to maintain our outrage in order to stop adding names to the list of 244 women.

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