The nationwide heartbreak for Ashling and the inescapable grief detailed on social media by women who shared their experiences of violence, their near misses, their safety measures, was retraumatising for many.
However, talk of apps and panic buttons is utterly frustrating. Technology would not have saved Ashling, and it won’t save the next woman. It doesn’t save people if the guards don’t respond, or if they cannot use technology because an abuser controls access to devices.
Violence must not be viewed as an acceptable part of life for women, but many do experience it every day. During my eight years working in refuges in Dublin, I was privileged to help hundreds of women access safety, sometimes just with the clothes on their backs and the babies in their arms. But I also had to turn away hundreds of women because there was not enough room. I would go home from shifts hoping that the women would ring again, and that they would survive.
This violence was relentless every day, even if it didn’t make the headlines. We talk about it when horrific incidents happen, but we need to keep this conversation going to protect all women.
There is always an element of victim blaming when it comes to violence against women, intentional or not. This time, it was a revisiting of the ‘just world’ theory, which suggests that people believe that bad things only happen to bad people who do stupid things.
Ashling ran at the ‘right’ time; we even used the hashtag #shewasonlygoingforarun. However, we should be able to run at the ‘wrong’ time. We should be able to make mistakes. We should be able to be drunk, to wear what we want, to be imperfect humans that make mistakes and live as we like – without being blamed for our murder or abuse.
Hashtags like this might mean well, but it doesn’t matter where we are, what we do, or what we wear – we need to refocus the emphasis back on the person who chooses to commit violence. This is about the killer’s actions, not the victim’s.
One response that really struck me was from a man who asked, “Why was she out on her own?”, as if women should be accompanied by a chaperone at all times. The depressing reality is that even if we accepted the bizarre world of constant public accompaniment, if we were to be murdered it would most likely be the chaperone.
Over 80pc of women murdered in Ireland knew their killer, and were either related to them or were in a relationship with them.
Women are tired. We all know someone. We are someone. Why do we need to share our trauma over and over again for an unsympathetic audience that is unwilling to take the steps to challenge this violence?
Leo Varadkar tweeted about stopping violence, and Micheál Martin attended the vigil at the Dáil. Both have the power to contribute real change here – will they do it or do they prefer glib soundbites and photo ops? Both of their parties have been in power for decades, but funding has been cut for many support services.
Real action takes hard conversations, excessive funding, radical changes to education, enforcing accountability in the gardaí for not answering or logging 999 calls, and making sure that judges have adequate training on the nuances of violence against women.
Different women face different challenges in life, and some are more vulnerable than others. Disabled women, women of colour, sex workers, trans women, socio-economically disadvantaged women, and Traveller women can face an increased level of violence.
All women deserve solidarity. Not every murdered woman has received a vigil, and not all vigils are well attended. There is a vigil at the Dáil every December 17 for murdered sex workers, and it barely makes headlines. We cannot end violence against women without including all women, regardless of nationality or what they did for a living.
Ashling, Urantsetseg, Fabiole, Belinda, Zeinat, Jastine, and the 238 other women killed by men since 1996 – and the women before this count started – should still be here, to live, work, dress, and run wherever
they want, whenever they want.
This should be the moment that finally motivates the Government to fund and develop adequate responses, including appointing a long-called-for dedicated minister for domestic and sexual violence. Let society reflect on how everyone can take action to tackle this scourge, and let our schools address domestic and sexual violence in class alongside bystander and consent programmes.
Everyone has a part to play, and small actions add up to societal change. Tackling sexism, transphobia, ableism, racism, and systemic oppression takes work, but it is not impossible to do if we want this cultural change.
Dr Caroline West is a sex educator and host of the Glow West podcast.