Vigils across the UK and Ireland have brought together hundreds of people in recent days, paying tribute to 23-year-old teacher Ashling Murphy, as once again the public is reeling in the wake of another shocking murder of a young woman just going about her daily life.
Murphy, a primary school teacher, was killed in an attack while out jogging along a canal — a popular route for pedestrians and runners — in Tullamore, Ireland, on Jan. 12. It’s reported she was attacked at about 4 p.m. while out on her run and died at the scene.
Her death and the outcry following it has put the spotlight back on the issue of gender-based violence and sparked calls for further action to be taken to improve women’s safety in the country and globally.
Police in Ireland arrested a suspect but he was released shortly afterwards. Another suspect, currently in hospital, has reportedly been identified and will be questioned in due course, although further details have yet to be announced.
The murder has sent shockwaves throughout the country and beyond. Runners taking part in group runs organised by Park Run in both the Republic and Northern Ireland over the weekend held a minute’s silence for Murphy before starting.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people gathered at vigils in Tullamore, Cork, and outside the Irish Centre in London on Saturday. Well-wishers lit candles, sang songs, and held up signs reading “Her name is Ashling.” In London, one journalist noted there may have been over 1,000 peole in attendance.
Addressing the crowds in London, the cultural officer at the Irish Centre, Anna Johnston, said: "Today, along with Ashling, we remember all the women who have had their lives stolen through gender-based violence. We shouldn't be here, and Ashling should be."
She added that people were "angry, distressed, and heartbroken" over the young teacher’s death.
The news of Murphy’s attack comes just four months after 28-year-old teacher Sabina Nessa was killed in south-east London in her local park, as she walked to meet a friend in a pub just five minutes from her home. A 38-year-old man is awaiting trial.
The outpouring of grief and anger in the past week has been described as “Ireland’s Sarah Everard moment,” coming nearly a year after 33-year-old Everard’s kidnap and murder by serving police officer Wayne Couzens sparked a wave of protest about women’s lack of safety in Britain.
Ireland’s taoiseach (prime minister), Micheál Martin, told reporters on Friday that Murphy’s murder has “united the nation in solidarity and revulsion.”
“No stone will be left unturned in terms of bringing this investigation to a completion and to bring the person responsible for this to justice,” he continued. Meanwhile, the deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar said: “We, as a society, need to face up to this. There is an epidemic of violence against women.”
While Murphy’s family and community mourn her death, gender equality campaigners and activists have been sharing their anger over insufficient governmental action.
“We’re angry that another woman’s life has been taken. The death of Ashling Murphy must be a watershed moment to end violence against women,” the director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Orla O’Connor, told reporters.
Meanwhile, the NGO Women’s Aid Ireland released a statement saying that there needed to be “zero tolerance of all forms of male violence against women” in the wake of her murder.
We aren't safe jogging (Ashling Murphy) https://t.co/5bglMtaSRf— Gina Martin (@ginamartinuk) January 13, 2022
Gina Martin, a gender equality campaigner who made taking “upskirting” photos illegal in the UK, added “jogging” to her tally on Twitter of the many activities and scenarios that have been proven unsafe for women in recent years.
After Everard was murdered, the phrase “she was just walking home” started trending on social media. Similarly, the phrase “she was just going for a run” has been frequently cropping up on social media in response to Murphy’s death.
However, the activist and author of Everyday Sexism, Laura Bates pointed out in an Instagram post: “I understand why people are posting ‘she was going for a run’... I know it comes from a place of grief and rage“ but she adds that it can "play into this insidious narrative of the perfect victim who deserves our sympathy and our grief because she did absolutely everything right.”
Bates argues that it would still be tragic if a woman was killed at 2 a.m. or if she was on drugs. “It doesn’t matter what she was doing. It doesn’t matter. She shouldn’t be dead,” Bates said.
In her article, Starling says that the “era of vigils” started with the large gatherings held for Sarah Everard last March, and argues that while she has attended them, they don’t solve the deep-rooted societal causes of gender violence.
“Gender-based violence is baked into our social structures,” writes Starling. “We need to rip up the roots of the problem, and overhaul this world built for men.”
If you want to help address violence against women, Global Citizen has partnered with Our Streets Now, a grassroots organisation campaigning to make public sexual harrasment a crime penalised with on-the-spot fines in the same way as littering is. You can sign the petition here.