‘We cannot let these violent acts against women restrict our freedom’

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Dr Ailbhe Kenny signing the Book of Condolence for the late Ashling Murphy at Mary Immaculate College.

After hearing Ashling Murphy had been murdered while out for a jog, her former music lecturer at Mary Immaculate College (MIC) in Limerick, Dr Ailbhe Kenny, changed into her jogging clothes and hit the ground running.

The pair had shared a number of common bonds, both natives of County Offaly, both runners, both educators, both women.

“As soon as I heard the victim’s name, I knew I had an Ashling Murphy in my class and I ran to my computer and got up a photograph and as soon as her photograph came up, it was devastating. I was in deep shock,” Dr Kenny said.

“I couldn’t believe this could happen to someone so young, needlessly, a complete senseless act, with no apparent connection to any sort of criminality. It wasn’t an act of domestic violence that we would hear of much more frequently. It was just so incredibly random and senseless, and that was deeply shocking.

“And then, after an hour, I decided to put on my trainers and I went for a run.”

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“I too am a runner and I thought the best way to think about Ashling and to get some headspace to think about it all and process it, was to go for a run.”

It was her own personal tribute to Ms Murphy, who had graduated from her class three months ago, as well as to show the perpetrators of violence against women, and the male cat-callers, and the male wolf-whistlers, that they would not stymie her with fear.

There is no silver bullet strategy, she said, but changing a culture of violence against women should be more of a focus for early educators.

“As a runner, I have been catcalled, whistled at, yelled at, laughed at, pointed at. I haven’t been attacked, but all of these other things have happened to me, and I can guarantee you they happen on a weekly basis to female runners. There are women out there running who have fear constantly and who are being subjected to abuse that they shouldn’t be subjected to.

“That can act on a continuum – from the simple wolf-whistle to someone ending up being murdered.”

“It’s about trying to change the culture, these very embedded ideas that females are objects that you can whistle at. I don’t mean to trivialize, but it’s not okay – some people may think it’s a very far cry from murdering a female, but actually it’s not that far away, because it’s all on a continuum of abuse of women.”

“And the more normal that it becomes that women are objectified and not seen as human beings who are just out for a walk or run and who can be abused in this way or have random acts of violence inflicted on them, the more society accepts that we continue this perpetual fear amongst women who just want to go out and live their lives to the fullest.”

Dr Kenny said all sections of society “whether you are male or female are deeply shocked by this. I think that’s important to say. However this is a predominantly female college, so the fact that this brutal act of violence has happened to one of our own females is going to heighten a fear amongst our female student population”.

Ms Murphy’s killing will now make women stop and think ‘will I go for that walk or run?’

“That was one of the reasons I went for a run when I found out it was Ashling,” Dr Kenny continued.

“We cannot let these violent acts against women restrict our freedom as women. We have to resist the fear, and keep getting out there and claiming our space. These are public spaces, we are entitled to walk and run there, and feel safe. We cannot shut ourselves away, we need to reclaim those spaces again and again, despite horrible acts like this.”

“We don’t want this to happen again and that’s the essential message. We want to be able to walk and run in our communities. I want our female students here in Mary Immaculate College to go out for those runs. Whether it’s daylight or nighttime, it shouldn’t matter, and it makes me really upset that that’s now threatened by this kind of act”.

Dr Kenny said: “Ms Murphy had a very bright future ahead of her, she had only just graduated, so we are just in complete shock and we are devastated to know that she is not going to be part of her family and her community from here on. She has left a huge gap in all our lives and there will also be children who will miss out for generations to come who were going to have her as a teacher.”

“Her leadership qualities were already beginning to shine through, she was already that member of the community that everyone knows. She was that person who consistently spreads her skills and knowledge. She didn’t keep it to herself, she shared it.”