So often, women are told not to walk alone at night, to stay in brightly lit areas and to ensure people know where they are at all times. But the tragic death of 23-year-old Ashling Murphy proves that time of day is irrelevant when it comes to staying safe.
I imagine I am far from the only woman to shorten my time outside slightly in the winter months, with early morning jogs and late-night dashes to the shop seeming much less necessary when darkness descends over so many hours of the day.
I always have my phone on me, and I live in the centre of a city, but I don’t feel comfortable leaving the house alone when it’s dark due to the fear of someone presuming that me being alone is an invitation to talk, to follow me, to get something from me that I don’t want to give.
In reality, though, the time of day isn’t going to stop someone determined, as appears to be the case in the death of Ashling, a school teacher who was killed while jogging along a canal in the middle of the afternoon on Wednesday, January 12, in Tullamore, Ireland.
Gardaí responded to the scene on the banks of the Grand Canal following a call from members of the public and discovered Ashling with serious injuries. She was given medical attention, but could not be saved.
It appears Ashling was alone at the time she was attacked, but that is irrelevant. If women can’t be safe outside alone at 4.00pm, when school children are wandering the streets and there is still light in the sky, then they cannot be safe outside alone at any time of day.
Gardaí earlier expressed belief the 23-year-old was killed by one man who acted alone, and that she did not know her attacker. A 40-year-old man was arrested but has since been released, and is ‘no longer a suspect’.
A team of more than 50 gardaí have been assigned to the murder investigation, with Supt Eamonn Curley assuring that ‘No stone will be left unturned in bringing the perpetrator of this crime to justice.’
Detectives working on the case have appealed for information about a Falcon Storm mountain bike, which they have described as having ‘straight handlebars and distinctive yellow/green front forks’, as well as for details from anyone who was near the scene of the killing at Cappincur, Tullamore, on Wednesday afternoon.
Curley announced at a press conference that Ashling had sustained serious injuries ‘consistent with an assault’, though the results of a post-mortem have not been released ‘for operational reasons’.
Tributes have flooded in for Ashling following her death, with the president of Ashling’s former college saying the entire Mary Immaculate College community was ‘shocked to the core to hear of the tragic and senseless killing’.
The 23-year-old has been described as ‘fantastic, beautiful, an extraordinary sportsperson, Irish musician, choral conductor and an inspiration’ by the headteacher of the school where she worked, and an ‘exceptionally talented young lady who made an unforgettable impression’ by the Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (Gathering of Musicians of Ireland), BBC News reports.
Irish premier Micheál Martin said the teacher ‘represented the best of modern Ireland’.
Ashling’s death comes just months after the tragic murder of Sarah Everard, who went missing on March 3, 2021, while walking to her home in Brixton, London and was found dead one week later.
Sarah’s death sparked protests calling for women’s safety, but inevitably, as always seems to be the case when discussing attacks against women, some people began to raise questions about Sarah’s actions that night, asking what she could have done to better protect herself from the attacker.
Questions such as ‘what was she wearing?’ and ‘why was she alone?’ have no place in cases of women being attacked. We should be able to wear what we want, at whatever time of day, and be safe. This isn’t a new argument, but despite the attention surrounding Sarah’s case and a widespread realisation that change needs to happen, nearly one year later it’s clear not everyone has got the message.
Declan Harvey, Fianna Fail councillor for the area where Ashling was attacked, described it as a ‘lovely area’. He noted that Ashling ‘regularly’ jogged along the canal, explaining it ‘helps clear your head’, and said it’s a ‘very popular route that everyone takes’.
Per The Independent, he continued: ‘People walk their dogs, people with their kids and prams.’
According to Harvey, Ashling was not somewhere unfamiliar when she was targeted. She was not doing anything dangerous; in fact, having an afternoon jog down a canal sounds idyllic. But the serenity that Ashling deserved on her run was snatched from her, and no matter what the circumstances around the attack turn out to be, nobody had the right to do that.
It didn’t matter that it was daylight, that mothers pushing prams could have been just around the corner, because when the attacker saw the ‘opportunity’, they took it. And until everyone realises there is no such thing as an ‘opportunity’ to target women, we will not truly be safe.
Our thoughts are with Ashling’s family and friends at this tragic time. May she rest in peace.
Gardai are asking anyone who was in the Cappincur/Canal walk area of Tullamore before 4.00pm on Wednesday to make contact with them.
If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677
Topics: News, Ireland, Now, Sarah Everard, Teacher