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‘It’s not the lone man, it’s the brazen gangs of teenage boys all looking to one-up each other, that I fear when I walk home alone’


By Sarah Finnan
10th Feb 2022
‘It’s not the lone man, it’s the brazen gangs of teenage boys all looking to one-up each other, that I fear when I walk home alone’

As violence continues to break out in certain parts of Dublin and women continue to be targeted across the country, perhaps one of the most worrying parts is how young those allegedly involved in the chaos are.

We do everything “right”. 

We don’t go running late at night. We put earphones in but we don’t play music. We avoid eye contact, we don’t engage, we never retort back. We cross the road, we take the “safe” but longer route. We turn our locations on. We text when we get home safe. I could go on. 

The onus is always on us to do better but I’m tired of all of it. Tired, and angry. 

I, like so many other women, am sick of having to accompany each horrific act of violence with the caveat that we were “right” when it’s so clear that what’s being done is wrong. We shouldn’t have to justify our actions by saying that we were “only” doing this, or “only” doing that. I understand that the intent here is to prove how senseless these crimes truly are, but doing things “right” isn’t the baseline criteria for not being murdered, raped or attacked. 

I’ll be the first to tell you that I’ve done things I “shouldn’t” have in my life. I’ve inadvertently put myself in danger many times before, mostly because I felt that I was entitled to do so. I’ve jogged along the canal late at night. I’ve put earphones in and stubbornly listened to music when I knew I should be doing otherwise. I’ve had run-ins with people who I’m lucky to have escaped from, and frankly, it’s a miracle that my actions haven’t had graver consequences

I’m sure my parents can attest to the horror of receiving a 5 am text from their daughter in Italy instructing them to “call me when you wake up”. Suffice to say that my semester studying in Bologna got off to a rocky start when I pulled an Irish exit and drunkenly walked home alone… only for a 20-something-year-old man I’d never met to see his opportunity and try to overpower me, wrapping his arms around my neck, mere metres from my front door. Thankfully, I had the good sense to yell out, though, with no one around to hear, it was just a fluke that he got spooked and ran. 

It took me three days to leave my apartment again and it was pure doggedness that made me do so. I downplayed the incident, even internally, and was so determined to have a good time that I refused to think about it. 

This summer I was out for an afternoon walk when a group of lads, in their late teens, emerged from the pub onto the path before me. Already stuck for space – what with several other pedestrians, a buggy and a man walking his dog passing by – they did little to accommodate anyone else and so I stepped out onto the road to go around them… a move one of them apparently took as his green light to look me up and down and then make a derogatory comment about me to his friends. All of whom laughed. 

I resisted the urge to turn around and demand he say it to my face, but my walk was ruined by a simmering fury that quickly started bubbling the further along I went. Nothing I could have said would have yielded the same embarrassment and I didn’t want to agitate the situation any further, but I was annoyed at myself all the same. He made fun of me, and yet I felt bad. 

The day before Ashling Murphy was murdered, I was doing my grocery shop and had to pop into a pharmacy because I thought two young guys were following me home. I dawdled for 15 minutes, pretending to look at moisturisers before taking my keys out of my pocket and powering on… looking over my shoulder after every second step. 

I’m not looking for sympathy here – unfortunately, stories like these are a dime a dozen and every woman I know has their own versions that they could pull out and recite – but for the first time in my life, I feel really frightened to be alone. The age profile of the people harassing us has become younger and even walking to my friend’s house on the other side of town is enough to stir up latent panic about passing gangs of youths who may or may not say something to me. 

Their behaviour is marked by bold defiance and a complete lack of shame. The younger these boys are, the more confidence they appear to have. They don’t care if you hear them… in fact, all the better if you do. They almost enjoy being challenged and their brazen “come at me” attitudes are second only to the sense of one-upmanship that being surrounded by their peers seems to foster.  

Recent events across Dublin suggest that the problem is only getting worse. Gardaí are currently investigating a broad-daylight kidnapping in Finglas and while we don’t know exactly what prompted such violence, all I can say is that, as a woman, it scares me. 

Photo by Rodan Can on Unsplash