Tuesday 27 September 2016

'I felt angry that a strange man felt he had the right to touch and intimidate me in broad daylight and in public'

Catherine Devine

Published 28/05/2016 | 07:25

General view of Luas arriving at St. Stephen's Green stop
General view of Luas arriving at St. Stephen's Green stop

A young Irish professional woman has described her horror experience of being groped on the Luas in broad daylight.

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Aoife Kelly, a journalist with independent.ie said she felt “angry” and “ashamed” that a man thought that he had the right to touch and intimidate her in public.

“I felt what I thought was a woman’s handbag pressing into my backside as the LUAS rocked down the track.  But soon the pressure increased and became more rhythmic and it dawned on me that it wasn’t a handbag but a hand.  Someone was groping me – hard,” said Aoife.

Aoife realised it was the man standing beside her who was groping her, but she had nowhere to go on the packed carriage.

“He stared back at me and stopped rubbing my thigh but immediately covered my other hand, on the handrail, with his,” she said.

An official report on public sexual harassment in Ireland hasn’t been carried out in 14 years to investigate the extent of this problem. The last report on Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) was in 2002 and found that 42pc of women and 28pc of men experienced some form of sexual abuse or assault in their lifetime.

Ellen O’Malley Dunlop, member of Séanad Eireann and former CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, called for more research and discussion in the area.

“We need to challenge this type of behaviour. If it’s not challenged, the harassment will get bigger and escalate,” she said.

Ellen said that sexual harassment is underreported by women as they think they’re being “petty”, “too politically correct” or that it’s just a “joke”.

“Harassment isn’t a joke,” she said.

Lynn Ruane, independent member of Seanad Eireann said: “We need to empower all young people to challenge the culture of sexual acceptance in Ireland. Society has led us to believe that we need to ignore unwanted sexual advances.

“I’ve reacted in the moment to sexual harassment but I’ve never followed through and reported it. I never challenged it.”

Lynn said that there’s too much pressure on women to accept harassment and are often labelled “sensitive” if they report it.

Lynn also stressed that it’s not just women who are affected by public sexual harassment. “Men definitely underreport sexual harassment or unwanted sexual encounters. They feel embarrassed or feel as though they should have been able to protect themselves. It’s a big problem for everyone.”

Noeline Blackwell, CEO of Dublin Rape Crisis Centre said she is “concerned” about the underreporting of the issue.

“We are concerned that rape and sexual assault are quite under reported and so it is hard to get a real handle on the extent of the crimes associated with sexual violence.

“The recent CSO figures show an increase in sexual assault and rape figures but it is unclear to us whether there is an increase in the prevalence of these crimes, or a greater willingness to report them,” she said.

While there is very little information available, Garda CSO crime statistics show a steady increase in sexual assaults. In 2005 there were 1,801 and in 2015 there were 2,361 sexual assaults reported.

DCU student Fionnuala Jones said that she was sexually harassed at a 1975 concert in the 3Arena recently but didn’t report it.

“One member of a group of lads kept forcibly grinding against me - very deliberately - as well as groping me and attempting to put his arm around me. At one point, he started reaching over me as well trying to take photos of the stage. (I’m 5’5” and he was considerably taller and broader than me so it meant I couldn't see then at all). I smacked his hand out of the way, which annoyed him considerably, so he started putting the camera in my face, trying to take pictures and Snapchat videos of me.”

According to a recent UK study by YouGov over a third of British women have received unwanted, sexual physical contact in public. The survey revealed that 85pc of women aged 18 to 24 have experienced unwanted sexual attention in public places and 45pc have experienced unwanted sexual touching.

If you’ve ever experienced public sexual harassment and want to share your story email cdevine@independent.ie

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