Ireland is a safe place for women
Despite talk of an ‘epidemic’ of violence against females, we have one of the lowest murder rates for women in Europe, says Eilis O’Hanlon
Published 26/04/2015 | 02:30
Just because the police ask householders to lock the doors before going out doesn’t mean that they’re making excuses for burglars.
Just because the airport puts up posters asking passengers to keep an eye out for suspicious activity doesn’t mean that they’re on the side of the terrorists. If anyone dares suggest that women should take care when they go out drinking, however, it will immediately be said that they are letting rapists and other predators off the hook.
Why, it will be demanded, should women have to be careful when they go out for the night? They should be allowed to get as drunk as they like, go where they like, wear what they like, and behave as they like, without being attacked. As, of course, they should.
That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t take care all the same. That’s not defending
the guilty; it’s protecting the innocent. Every so often, though, another row erupts when someone says the unsayable.
This time it’s judge Nigel Cadbury, who, whilst sentencing a 21-year-old woman for assaulting another female whilst under the influence of alcohol, told Worcester magistrates court: “I find it incredible that young people can get so drunk that they don’t even know who they’re with. One only has to think about the horrible situation in Glasgow to see how serious this could have been. It’s very, very worrying how young girls put themselves in such very, very vulnerable positions.”
The reference to the horrible murder of student Karen Buckley was taken by some as blaming the Cork woman for her own death. Condemnation swiftly followed. The National Women’s Council of Ireland said that the words were “utterly vile”; its youth wing, the Y Factor, said there were “no words to describe how disgusting these comments are”. In Britain, a group called Justice For Women urged people to make a complaint to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office. Twitter, meanwhile, did what Twitter does, with various users hoping that Nigel Cadbury one day felt the same pain as Karen’s family, and others casually decreeing that the judge was “woman shaming” and “misogynistic”.
Is he? It’s quite a leap from the only words any of us have ever heard the man say to suggest that he has a pathological hatred of women, which is what misogyny actually means. These days it seems to have been adopted as a catch-all term for anyone who says something about women with which we happen to disagree.
The judge’s words were certainly clumsy and ill-timed; but they were in themselves no basis for jumping to a conclusion that he has a bad attitude towards women.
“The man might not have meant that,” as Eileen O’Malley-Dunlop of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre acknowledged on radio. He probably just meant to say that it’s a dangerous world, that Karen Buckley’s awful death proves it, and that women should be careful when they go out because getting so drunk that they don’t know where they are or what they’re doing, as happened in the unsavoury case over which he was presiding at the time, can put them in danger.
Karen wasn’t drunk; she was an innocent, random victim of evil. But some women do take stupid risks. The warning was directed at them.
Sadly, giving the man the benefit of the doubt in such instances — assuming, on the balance of probabilities, that he meant well, even if the words came out all wrong — is now regarded by many feminists as tantamount to a declaration of hostilities in some gender war that for most of us doesn’t exist.
Responding to the murder of Karen Buckley, Una Mullally of the Irish Times even wrote last week that “violence against women and the murder of women and the rape of women are epidemics”, whilst accusing men of not doing enough to keep women safe and instead expecting women to do the hard work of protecting themselves from assault.
That article was immediately tweeted up by the National Women’s Council too, and was recommended more than 2,000 times on Facebook. In a modern social media world, this is how false narratives spread — because it is a false narrative. There is no “epidemic” of violence against women, at least not in the Western world. Feminists have simply adopted a word which the World Health Organisation used last year to describe the suffering of women worldwide, whilst stripping it of its context, which was widespread genital mutilation and war in the developing world.
What happened to Karen Buckley was appalling and depraved, and should not happen to any woman, man, or child; but murder is a freakishly rare event in our society. That’s what makes it so disturbing when it happens, and why so many were deeply affected by Karen’s story and the trauma of her family and friends, Their pain is unimaginable to us precisely because what happened to their daughter, sister, friend, is so abnormal and atypical.
If there really was an “epidemic” of violence against women, the terrible truth is that it would not have made such a shocking impact.
The UN’s Global Study on Homicide shows that murder has been steadily in decline in Europe since 1990, and even then was already much lower than the rest of the world. Ireland has a murder rate of 1.2 murders for every 100,000 people and that has been relatively stable since 2000, apart from a peak in 2008 to 1.8 per 100,000. That puts us above Denmark, Italy, Spain, France, Holland and the UK, but only slightly. The murder rate in cities is higher, as might be expected. The rate in Dublin is 1.59 per 100,000, whilst Glasgow has the highest murder rate in the UK, at 2 per 100,000. Every murder is a tragedy, but it is by no means an epidemic, and, even if it was, women would still not be the primary targets, because the overwhelming majority of victims of homicide are men.
In Europe, the breakdown of murder victims across 44 countries works out at 72pc male and 28pc female. In Ireland, the figures are starker still. This country has one of the lowest murder rates for women in Europe. Here, 87pc of victims are male and only 13pc of them women. Among comparable countries, only Greece, at 6pc, had a lower female homicide rate.
It is true that a majority of those killed in the home are women. Men are more likely to be killed by strangers; women by someone they know and love, but there are, thankfully, a very small number of such murders. Adjusting the figures to reflect the gender breakdown of victims, the rate of female homicide in Ireland is actually 0.156 per 100,000.
Of course, feminists are right to say that women have very specific fears around sexual violence. Rape appears to be on the increase, even as the overall crime rate falls. That may be a result of a greater willingness to report, which would be encouraging, or because of an actual increase in the rate, which would be worrying; but either way rape represents a genuine fear for women. Male-on-female violence is also statistically more likely to be accompanied by some form of sexual assault than male-on-male violence.
Significantly, too, men are responsible for most of the recorded violence, which contributes to women’s fears, even if they are not its primary targets. Worldwide, regardless of cultural differences or the type of assault, 95pc of violence is committed by men. That’s not something that can or should be ignored. Men need to acknowledge and tackle that aspect of masculinity.
But feminists tend to see every act of violence against women as a political act which somehow represents, and serves the interests of, men, whereas it may simply be a subset of a general phenomenon of male aggression.
Una Mullaly said it would be “nice” for women not to have to worry about their safety. Wouldn’t it just? But worrying is not itself proof of actual risk. Men are less prone to worry, even though they are more likely to fall victim to violence from other males.
But given that women do worry about violence, doesn’t it make it all the more important for them to take sensible steps to keep themselves safe? When the Road Safety Authority launched a campaign warning drunken pedestrians of the dangers of walking home from the pub, no one complained that they were blaming victims of traffic accidents for their own deaths.
The thrust of the RSA’s message is worth repeating: “Because you are impaired, the path you walk back on will be a very different, much more dangerous one.” That surely goes for other victims too.
Feminists always get indignant when the onus is put on women to protect themselves, rather than on men to not attack them, as if these things were mutually exclusive. It’s a false dichotomy. What’s so objectionable about agreeing that we should do both?
Some of the international initiatives which Mullally herself praised — female-only subway carriages in Brazil; female-only buses in Malaysia — are examples of the emphasis being put on protecting women rather than stopping men. Whether we really want such segregation of the sexes in Ireland is another matter.
The point is that it doesn’t have to be an either/or choice. Anything which makes women feel safe should be explored every bit as much as initiatives to make men take responsibility for their own behaviour.
But how does it help women’s feelings of vulnerability to tell them that there is an “epidemic” of violence against them when it just isn’t true?