Research into Irish attitudes on sexual consent can be as chilling as it is informative. CEO of Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) Noeline Blackwell, speaking on Today with Claire Byrne discussed some of the DRCC's research, including a Europe-wide study on consent carried out last year:
"People were asked if were there reasons that it might be acceptable to have non-consensual sexual activity with a woman. The sample was a decent sized sample; over a thousand people in Ireland."
Noeline gave Claire some of the chilling headline figures from the survey, in which people were asked their views on sexual consent in a range of situations:
"13% to 14% thought it would be okay if a person was drunk. 10% thought that it was okay if someone went home to somebody else's house - it was OK to have sex with them. But 7% of those surveyed thought it was a justification for non-consensual sexual activity if someone was walking alone at night."
The idea that anyone felt that a woman walking alone at night "legitimised" assault is hard to grasp, especially in the aftermath of the death of Ashling Murphy. Noeline says that the results chime with the experience of many in DRCC, where survivors of sexual assault often question their own behaviour; echoing the societal fallacy that they contributed to their own attack:
"We hear this again and again in Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, where people say 'Maybe if I had gone earlier? Maybe if I hadn’t taken a drink? Maybe if... something or other.... Or maybe if I didn’t go out after dark this wouldn’t happen.’ So, even women train themselves to question their own behaviour; to question their own freedom of movement, because that’s the way we’re brought up that in some ways there is an acceptable level at which, you know, somebody might be available to be assaulted if they do things."
Noeline says that women absorb the attitudes in wider society, sometimes leading to feelings that they are responsible for avoiding an assault, as opposed to the responsibility being with the attacker. She says that recent events are turning the focus on society and forcing a re-think:
"In some ways, women have themselves internalised this but it is also a societal attitude that women really do need to be more careful and not to bring on violence on themselves. So that is really being questioned in the wake of Ashling Murphy’s death."
When it comes to the workplace, Noeline says everyday sexism needs to be taken seriously, as it is part of the continuum of disrespect that has rape and murder at its extreme end. The DRCC CEO says that companies need to send a clear message that sexism in the workplace will not be tolerated, and they need to act accordingly:
"Say, lewd comments, where we just say ‘Stay away from that person’, instead of saying ‘That person is going to have to go; because this company will not have an attitude where that is happening."
Women who take a stand against men who harass them in the workplace can be the ones who suffer, Noeline says, and this is just not acceptable:
"We found that people generally didn’t complain about it, because you would be seen as the troublemaker and actually, employment lawyers were able to say to us, anecdotally, that what happened was if a person didn’t leave themselves who was being harassed, they would be ‘eased out’ if they complained, because they were seen as troublemakers."
Drawing together the data presented by Noeline Blackwell on Today with Claire Byrne, the picture of a perfect storm emerges; between a society that subtly blames women for behaviours which somehow "justify" their assault, a workplace culture that "eases out" female troublemakers and an education system which leaves young people getting a large part of their sexual education from friends or from pornography:
"Our young people are growing up with their main knowledge coming from their homes, or more likely from their peers and from pornography, where the worst stereotypes of women are to be found."
In her opening remarks to Claire, Noeline Blackwell recalled Fiona Pender, who went missing over 25 years ago, and whose childhood home is just metres away from where Ashling Murphy was killed. Noeline says that every attack adds to the fear, built up over the decades:
"Women today are fearful. They are fearful about a known murderer but they’re also reminded to be fearful in general."
You can listen back to Claire’s full chat with Noeline Blackwell here, along with contributions by journalist Lisa Fallon and others
The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre National Helpline takes calls from anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year. You can contact them on on 1800 77 8888.
DRCC offer a helpline text service for those who are deaf or hard of hearing; details here.