POIGNANT Candles are left beside a picture of Ashling Murphy at a vigil held in her memory at Lough Lannagh in Castlebar on Friday evening. Pic: Alison Laredo
The term ‘gender-based violence’ has ripped through Irish conversations this week following the tragic death of Tullamore schoolteacher, Ashling Murphy. In Mayo, the reaction has been poignant and heartfelt, and now a top garda is encouraging all experiencing violence, intimidation and abuse to come forward.
Claremorris-based Superintendent Gabriel Moran has told the women of Mayo, and all Mayo people, to never worry about coming forward when they feel fearful or intimidated.
“If there’s an issue where you feel uncomfortable about someone’s behaviour, about the way they’re acting, or if someone is causing you to be fearful, then report that to the guards and we will be there.
“Don’t ever feel foolish reporting something. If you’re feeling uncomfortable there’s probably a reason for that. As humans we’re engineered to react if something doesn’t feel right, and therefore if you feel fearful or intimidated by somebody’s behaviour make sure you speak out and seek advice and support.
“I know it’s hard but there are great supports there – from An Garda Síochána through to Women’s Aid, Men’s Aid and even the county council. There are people there to help in every aspect, and we need to know that,” Supt Moran told The Mayo News.
Since the tragic murder of Ms Murphy in Tullamore the focus has been on gender-based violence domestically and in public, but Supt Moran is also aware that abuse can also occur on the workplace and other spaces.
“Gender-based violence is also a factor which can happen anywhere and regularly occurs in the workplace, in school or numerous other environments where there may be behaviours which are either inappropriate or unacceptable.
“There are structures for reporting harassment in the workplace and it’s crucially important to avail of these. There are quite significant duties and responsibilities on employers in relation to protecting people from the unwanted behaviour of others. Like all things, these structures aren’t always perfect, but if issues aren’t reported and highlighted then they go no further,” he added.
There has been a dramatic rise in domestic-abuse reports in Mayo in the 12 months up to December 2021. Gardaí in the county received 862 reports compared to 702 for the corresponding period in 2020. According to Supt Moran, there is also a problem of harassment, which is being addressed.
“The vast majority of these incidents is domestic abuse in the home, but we do have rare reports of harassment here which don’t involve physical violence but bring utter fear and concern to those who are the focus of that attention. There are robust powers in place to deal with such incidents,” Supt Moran said, before stating that all victims of such actions should immediately contact the authorities.
Currently, the legal definition of harassment covers the persistent following, watching, pestering, besetting or communicating about a person by any means, including the use of telephone. It also covers someone intentionally, recklessly or seriously interfering with another’s peace and privacy, or someone causing alarm, distress of harm to another.
“[The law surrounding harassment] is a powerful tool for people impacted by intimidation and harassment, and if someone’s behaviour causes fear to another it needs to be addressed,” he continued.
Worryingly, the amount of reports of abusive behaviour received by the Gardaí may only be the tip of the iceberg according to Supt Moran.
“Statistics tell us that 30 or 40 incidents may have occurred before somebody calls the guards. The call statistics may be just the tip of the iceberg… but I’m not saying there were 30 or 40 incidents before each of the 862 domestic abuse calls we got [in Mayo] in 2021, because once people get the courage to call us once they regularly get in touch again if there’s a repeat.
“Worryingly, there’s a strong correlation between domestic-abuse incidents and murder cases where parties are known to one another. So we’re working hard to try and not miss patterns or trends that are occurring in our areas.
“We always guide people towards support services in the county, and these are very beneficial,” he stated, before adding that the more people speak about gender-violence the better.
“There have been a lot of Women’s Aid ads on television highlighting the national freephone number that’s there. They’re very dramatic and harrowing, but sadly that’s the reality. They’re not saying anything that’s not the experience of many in our communities.
“A lot of people see those ads and recognise the reality of them. That in turn encourages people to make a call and contact the guards.”
There are occasions when victims report a crime but are unable to follow through with the case, and the Gardaí are well accustomed to these situations, according to Supt Moran.
“Sometimes a crime occurs but the victim isn’t in a position to go forward with it, and that’s understandable too. We will then speak to other potential witnesses and look at all other aspects of evidence. It may not always end up in prosecution but we may have enough to arrest a suspect or interview a suspect under caution.
“That in itself can mark someone’s card and make a huge difference. We will always look to support the victim, so never be afraid to lift the phone.”