SPEAKING OUT Since the brutal murder of Ashling Murphy in Tullamore, women across the county have been forced to speak out about their own experiences of stalking, intimidation and gender-violence.
Two women talk about their experience of gender-based abuse in Mayo
I was sitting in a restaurant in my home town recently with my children when I noticed a man looking intently at me. Initially I thought he was probably doing it without realising and he was probably trying to figure something out in his head, the way I often do myself. I had never seen him before, and he looked like any regular fella you see every day of the week.
I thought he’d get sick of staring at me, but he didn’t, and it really weirded me out. I got the kids and left the restaurant as fast as we could, and he followed us. Thankfully, the kids didn’t really notice. I brought them across the road to the nearby supermarket to get away from him.
Scarily, he followed us and stood outside the shop, staring in the window. I kept walking around the aisles hoping he would go away, and eventually, after some time, he disappeared. I told my husband when I got home, and I don’t really know what we thought. Maybe it was just some random thing that happens in life sometimes.
The following week, I pulled into Tesco and parked the car. As I was getting out of it, I looked around and there was the same guy standing at the back of my car. I was shocked and angry and frightened.
I shouted at him to get away from me and he did, but there was no rush on him.
I was getting really concerned now, but was doubting myself. Maybe, he just happened to be going shopping at that time, and maybe he was just passing my car as I got out. You think these things couldn’t possibly happen to some like yourself.
Amazingly, the following week, I was having lunch with my husband in town. We were sitting inside the window of the pub having a bit to eat and a chat before we went back to work and my husband said, “Who’s your man staring in the window?”
It was the same guy, and I said, “That’s the fella that was following me around.” He hopped up and went out to him, but the guy brushed by him and came in. He started shouting at me, saying I was stalking him and following him around. It was shocking. I was stunned, and the barman got rid of him.
We went to the Guards, and later, when we found out who he was, we asked around and people said, ‘He’s a lovely quiet lad, keeps himself to himself, wouldn’t hurt a fly’.
I don’t know what to do. I don’t know why this guy did this, and I want to tell women in Mayo to be vigilant.
It’s amazing how one becomes desensitised to intimidation, degradation and abuse. When people look at me they see a professional woman with a good job – a confident human in her community and her workplace. They don’t realise the turmoil I’ve gone through over the years because of the way some men have treated me here in Mayo.
On three occasions in my teens I got lifts into town only for the driver to pull over and try to assault me. Two of these occasions occurred in broad daylight. Can you possibly imagine that? Broad daylight, within a mile of my local town, and men think they can do this.
On each occasion I fought them off and ran from the car or van. Why didn’t I tell someone? I’m not sure. One of the reasons was, my mother wouldn’t let me out on my own again, and I was a teenager wanting to go out with my friends and have the craic. However, the main reason for keeping quiet was that nobody would believe me – or so I thought anyway. Who would believe a young one saying such awful things about fine men in the locality?
Looking back on it now, I see how these incidents affected me and impacted my life for so long. My husband wasn’t the man I thought he was, and he preyed on my lack of confidence. He gradually peeled away any layer of self-belief I had, and the fear and intimidation was something else, but I had to keep the good side out, or so I thought.
It got so bad that I had to take down every single mirror in the house. I couldn’t bear to see myself because he told me I was ugly and I couldn’t bear to see myself because I was disgusted with myself for being treated so badly.
The greatest thing I ever did was speak to someone who could help. That person showed me how my barriers had been broken down and how I didn’t have to live like that any more. It took time for me to gain confidence, but I did and I began to see what a weak human he was. That gave me the strength to get rid of him and be my own person. It wasn’t easy but it was the best thing I ever did.
There is always hope.
In conversation with Michael Gallagher