Monday 20 August 2018

Liz Kearney: Jastine Valdez’s murder leaves all of us looking back over our shoulders

Candles and flowers surround a photograph of the murdered girl. Picture; Gerry Mooney
Candles and flowers surround a photograph of the murdered girl. Picture; Gerry Mooney

Liz Kearney

You’re most likely to be murdered by someone you know, we are regularly informed by domestic violence charities and, indeed, the statistics bear this out. A 2017 report from Women’s Aid found 88pc of women murdered in Ireland were killed by a man they knew, most often a partner or an ex-partner.

And while this is not supposed to be a reassuring message, I’ve no doubt that, for many women, it can be. It’s easy to look around at our own lives and think, “well, it’s not going to happen to me”.

No such delusions are possible in the case of Jastine Valdez, who was walking home on a sunny Saturday afternoon when, on a bend in the road, she was plucked from the normality of her day and thrust into a nightmare.

What happened to Jastine next is too much to even think about. And while it feels almost shameful to admit it, the most troubling element of her murder, for those of us who are not her family or friends, is it appears to be that rare-but-chilling thing – a random attack.

There was nothing about Jastine that marked her out as especially vulnerable. She was an ordinary girl doing an ordinary thing in an ordinary place when she met with extraordinary evil.

Attacks like this carry an additional frisson of fear for the public; they tap into our deep-rooted fears of the stranger in the laneway, the intruder in the hall, the chance encounter with a maniac.

So even though we know it’s irrational, given that “stranger danger” is relatively remote – one study by the ‘New York Times’ of US murders in 2014 suggested murders involving strangers represented just 11pc of the total – these are the events that can change the way you do things: they make you hesitate before answering the door; they make you alter your route home at night. Even as you shed tears for the Valdez family, you are frightened for your own.

We are hardwired to look for an explanation when bad things happen. So this week, in the aftermath of Jastine’s death, we are weaving narratives. We are talking about how men should cross the road rather than walk behind a woman at night. We are talking about how we need to curb the culture of violent video games and pornography and do something about all of those horrendous TV shows that linger lovingly over the corpses of dead girls.

However, the whole point about random things is that they don’t fit a pattern and so they can’t be predicted. The devastating truth might be there’s little or nothing we can do to protect ourselves.

There seems to have been no way of knowing that an apparent “Mr Ordinary” would turn out to be the essence of evil. If only there were.

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