'Women shouldn't have to worry about safety in the streets but the reality is they have to'- The ten rules for staying safe
Girl Code: The Ten Rules for staying safe
This week, Edward Tenniswood was sentenced to life for raping and strangling to death a 20-year-old who had the great misfortune of putting her trust in him when he promised to get her home safe.
His victim was India Chipchase, who had gone to a Northampton nightclub with friends one Friday night last January, but became separated from them. At 1am on the Saturday, a bouncer found her drunk and upset outside the club, saying over and over, "I just want to go home." He took her to a taxi, but when asked to pay the fare in advance, she got out and leaned against a wall.
Watching close by, Tenniswood was seen to put his hand protectively around her in what was described in court as "a paternal way". From there, he lured her to his apartment where her body was later found with 30 separate injury marks after she'd been raped, battered and strangled.
If ever there was a story to describe every parent's nightmare, this ranks with the worst of them. It brings back memories of Karen Buckley, the Cork nurse bludgeoned to death in Glasgow last year by Alexander Pacteau in a crime the judge said was a "brutal, motiveless attack on a defenceless young woman".
In a TV3 documentary aired last Wednesday night, Karen's father spoke of the overwhelming grief the Buckley family have to live with since "our little angel was taken from us forever in the cruellest of ways".
And this week, India's father Jeremy described the wave of emotion that hit him at a wedding, when he realised that "I will never walk India down the aisle," and he hoped that "no other family would ever have to experience what we have".
India and Karen were robbed of their lives and their future. The manner of their murders doesn't bear thinking about, but as parents we've got to think about it, and more importantly, get our kids to think about it and equip them as best we can to protect themselves in a very dangerous world. Evil people - those who show no empathy towards others, and no remorse for their actions - exist, and they could be anywhere, on the bus, down the pub, or waiting outside a club for an innocent victim.
As criminologist and forensic psychologist John O'Keeffe said in the programme, The Murder of Karen Buckley: "We've got to get our minds around the fact that some people are not capable of redemption."
And yet they are, thankfully, few and far between. "Remember that the vast majority of young people who go out at night come home safe," says Rita O'Reilly, CEO of Parentline.
"However, predators are there, so parents have to make their teenagers understand the dangers they face.
"On the one hand, it's not good enough that we have to keep telling girls what to do and not to do; the onus should be on those who cause insecurity and fear to change their behaviour. But young people have to be aware of the world.
"Parents have a balancing act to follow in equipping their children to be safe, but in doing so without making them so fearful that it limits their lives. Most of the time the kids are okay, but they can improve their luck by protecting themselves. I tell parents, talk to your kids, use opportunities such as the story of India Chipchase on the news, or a storyline on TV to ask, 'How do you feel about that?' or 'If you were in a situation like that, what would you do?'
"Encourage your children to talk to their network of friends. Tell them never to go and meet somebody from a dating website without telling someone where they're going - and preferably have a pal nearby that they can seek out if they're uncomfortable.
"Above all, let your teenage and young adult children know that you're there if they need you, no matter what. Assure them that if, despite your best advice, they end up drunk, their drink has been spiked, they've taken drugs or are in any kind of trouble, that you will come and collect them, no questions asked."
Another tightrope parents have to manage is that of setting clear boundaries while remaining supportive when our kids screw up. We might do well to cast an eye back to our own activities at their age.
It doesn't seem that long since I was a worse-for-wear teenager after too many lagers, an experience which left me with the certainty that my own two daughters were not drinking Fanta when they went out to celebrate the Leaving, or go on the ritual post-Leaving holiday bash.
Like many parents, I remember lying awake when they started making their first tentative steps towards becoming independent adults. It's that time when children are no longer children, we have to set them free, but how can we do so without fretting uncontrollably because we know what a dangerous world they live in?
And by the way, without wishing to alarm parents of Leaving Cert students nationwide, Wednesday week is Leaving Cert results day. And soon after, groups of 18 and 19-year-olds will be flying off to the sun for possibly their first holiday without mammy and daddy helicoptering above.
"To be honest, we get more calls about concerns over drinking when the Junior Cert results come out than the Leaving," says Rita. "Calls about the post-Leaving holiday came in January or February, when bookings were being made, and parents were anxious about drink, drugs and sex. When the Leaving results come out, parents tend to talk to us more about disappointment over results, or anxiety about a child moving to another city or country to start college."
Their concerns may be well-founded. The Hunting Ground, a documentary, currently on Netflix, that exposes the shockingly under-disclosed rate of rape and sexual assault in colleges right across America, makes for compulsive, if distinctly uncomfortable, viewing for parents. In it, student Andrea Pino talks emotionally about her experience of being raped on campus.
"He grabbed my head and slammed it against the bathroom tile," she says. "I couldn't move. I wondered, 'Why am I not screaming?' When you're scared and you don't know what's happening to you, you just stay there and hope that you don't die. That's what I was hoping, that I had more than 20 years to live."
She survived and has gone on to make a real difference for women and enjoy a good life, unlike India Chipchase, Karen Buckley and others whose lives were so tragically cut short.
"These are unusual cases," says Cliona Saidléar, director of the Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI). "There was coercion all the way. The perpetrators targeted and took advantage of vulnerable young women.
"Most sexual assault happens with somebody known to the victim, but we focus on high-profile cases like these because of the fear and shock they generate. They're on a parallel with terrorist attacks. When public space is made unsafe by individuals, the challenge is, how do we respond to that?
"Knee-jerk reactions are unhelpful. Closing down our public space makes us all potential victims. For instance, if we tell girls that a particular street is unsafe after 10pm, more and more people will stop walking there until, eventually, that street becomes empty. Then it's ideal territory for a predator. We mustn't engage with the world through the eyes of the perpetrator.
"Fear is natural, but we have to take control, and own our space. Small actions add up. We have a culture of misogyny and we need to tackle it by simply saying, 'I don't condone that,' or 'I'm not okay with that behaviour,' every time we come across it. Empowering our children to name the behaviour out loud and say it's not acceptable is a powerful deterrent."
And perhaps it's working. Calls to the Rape Crisis Network are increasing year on year - there were 18,300 calls in 2014 - and, according to Cliona, it's not because more people are being sexually assaulted, but because more victims are reporting it.
"The silence is being broken," she says. "It's a positive step."
For further information visit parentline.ie, LoCall 1890 927277 or 01 8733500.
For rape crisis help information visit www.rapecrisishelp.ie or call 1800 778888.
The sisterhood.... ticking the boxes on a night out
The Girl Code is an unwritten set of 'sisterhood' rules to empower girls and women. There are many, but in the context of being streetwise, here are our top 10:
1 Tinder is the night…
If you're meeting somebody from a dating website, let a friend know the details and have them call you after an hour to check in, perhaps with a code to let them know discreetly if you're okay - eg, If the date is fine say, 'No problem,' or if something is going wrong, use, 'No problemo.'
2 Walk Away
If somebody makes you uncomfortable, there's no shame in simply walking away.
3 Pin It!
You can use location pins in WhatsApp to send the co-ordinates of where you are to someone. If you get into trouble and don't know where you are, turn on your GPS and use these location pins.
4 Spray It!
At a pinch, you can slow down an attacker by spraying deodorant in their face, so worth carrying some in your handbag.
5 Know What You're Getting
Don't accept drinks from a stranger, don't take a drink or other substance if you don't know what it contains, and never leave a drink unattended.
6 Stick Together
If you're going out with friends, arrange an agreed spot to meet up at a certain time in case you get separated, especially if you're on holiday and not everybody's phone works.
7 Know Who's Taking You Home
If you're taking a taxi alone, take down the number and text it to someone. Or look for a Halo, which emails you the name, number and licence number of your driver.
8 Be There for Each Other
If a friend becomes a victim of assault, be completely supportive. Don't ask how drunk she was, what she was wearing, or if she was giving out a particular vibe. Victim-blaming has a silencing effect.
9 The Consent Test
If you're struggling with what is and is not consensual sex, the YouTube video 'Tea Consent' spells it out - eg, You ask someone if they want a cup of tea and they say yes, and then in the time it takes to boil a kettle, they've gone off the idea… Then you don't make them drink it.
10 Talk to Your Parents
You think we know nothing of the world, but we've been there, done it, worn the kaftan… Remember, we're always here for you, no matter what.