We need to stop preaching about how women act on a night out
Women are expected to follow exhausting rules to protect themselves from predators. We should shift the focus instead to the men who prey on them
Published 28/04/2015 | 02:30
Every woman is familiar with the endless list of safety measures they are expected to follow on a night out.
Dress modestly - your revealing outfit might attract harassers. Don't leave your drink unattended in case a rapist drugs you. Let your friends know where you are at all times. Field off groping in pubs and nightclubs politely, lest you anger an unwanted admirer and provoke him into an attack. Don't walk home alone. Don't hop into the nearest taxi - you'll need an app such as Hailo so you instantly have the driver's details to hand.
If you must walk home in the dark, keep the sharp edge of your key between your fingers in case you need a makeshift weapon to defend yourself from that strange man minding his own business behind you. Text your friend when you arrive safely.
If these instructions to avoid violent men become too cumbersome, consider refusing to leave the house after nightfall altogether. Just stay in, clean the bathroom, and read a book.
The recent spate of high-profile killings of women, including the tragedy that was the killing of Cork student Karen Buckley in Glasgow earlier this month, has prompted a discourse about how young women can ward off potential predators when they go out at night. But it's time to stop imposing rules that limit women's freedom and start focusing on the tiny minority of men who carry out such crimes, according to women's rights campaigners, including the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI).
"Of course all of us should take precautions, because we all have a responsibility to manage our safety but, right now, the focus is all about the women and what they need to do and not about the men committing these crimes," says Orla O'Connor, director of the NWCI.
The threat of "stranger danger" is exaggerated here: women in Ireland are more likely to be raped or killed by someone they know than a complete stranger. Of the 32,000 people who contacted the Rape Crisis Network Ireland in 2013, 90pc knew their abuser.
Last month a Catholic priest in Australia referred to Jill Meagher, who was raped and murdered in Melbourne in 2012 by Adrian Bayley after leaving a bar. Fr Joseph Olickal told a Holy Communion class that if Jill had been "more faith-filled" she would have been at home in bed that night and not walking down the road at 3am. Olickal has since apologised.
Jill's husband Tom Meagher, who described the priest's comments as "shameful", is an ambassador for White Ribbon Ireland, which is part of a global campaign aimed at changing the attitudes and behaviours that surround men's violence against women. Meagher wrote a powerful blog post for White Ribbon last year about his shock at discovering that Bayley was not the obvious monster he had imagined.
He concluded that tormentors of women "are not monsters lurking on busy streets, but their friends, acquaintances, husbands, lovers, brothers and fathers." Instead, most rapists are "normal guys, guys we might work beside or socialise with, our neighbours or even members of our family". The concept of the "lurking monster" is "an excuse to implement a set of rules on women on 'how not to get raped', which is a strange cocktail of naiveté and cynicism," he wrote.
O'Connor believes Irish society needs more men like Meagher, who gives talks at schools to encourage boys never to commit, excuse or remain silent on violence against women.
Olga McDonogh, chief executive of ActionAid Ireland, which last year introduced the Safe Cities for Women campaign here and abroad, says Irish families and circles of friends need to adopt a "zero tolerance approach" towards verbal, sexual and physical abuse of women.
"It's not acceptable to make comments about women," she says. "It doesn't mean people go out and rape and murder, but it contributes to the whole cultural attitude towards women - that they should dress a particular way, not go out at night at their own, or go to a disco and walk home."