Study reveals high level of fear among women in public places

By Aideen O'Flaherty

A RECENTLY released study into instances of gender-based violence, including sexual harassment, in public places in Clondalkin found that there is “a high level of fear” among women in relation to their personal safety.

The study, which was carried out by South Dublin County Council as part of the ‘€300k Have Your Say’ participatory budget initiative, surveyed 151 individuals and 14 groups and organisations.

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Sixty-seven per cent of individuals and 78 per cent of organisations identified current safety concerns in specific areas (Image: Archive)

Sixty-seven per cent of individuals and 78 per cent of organisations identified current safety concerns in specific areas, including the areas around the shops in Rowlagh, Neilstown Shopping Centre, the Black Lane, Neilstown Road, Letts Field and Collinstown Park.

The most prevalent form of sexual harassment that respondents experienced, totalling 80 per cent, was offensive remarks about physical appearance, followed by sexually suggestive comments (75 per cent) and wolf-whistling and offensive remarks about clothing (60 per cent).

Sixty-four per cent of individuals and 56 per cent of organisations identified that women are staying away from areas where these issues are most prevalent.

Many women’s and girls’ freedom of movement had been curtailed and they had engaged in “a form of self-censorship”, according to the study, as they avoided specific locations as they felt unsafe, particularly in the evenings or after dark.

The study was presented by the council at a recent meeting of the South Dublin County Joint Policing Committee (JPC), where the issue was highlighted for gardai and numerous community stakeholders.

Fianna Fáil councillor Emma Murphy, who is the chair of the JPC, told The Echo: “The statistics were shocking but, as a female, they weren’t overly shocking to me.

“The study came about from feedback that issues like these were prevalent in public areas, and I think what the study showed was that this is a broad issue – it’s not just happening in secluded places.”

The study found that women of any age can be vulnerable to sexual harassment or other forms of sexual violence, however women aged from 17- to 39-years-old were identified as being at greater risk.

The council stated in the study that gender-based violence “is a universal issue that has no boundaries of community, class or culture and is perpetrated on streets, in parks, at shops and bus stops, in urban and rural areas.

“It negatively impacts on women and girls’ freedom of movement, on their ability to access services or other opportunities and ultimately impacts their health and wellbeing.”

In relation to reporting incidents of sexual harassment, 64 per cent of individuals and 67 per cent of organisations were unsure if women had reported incidents to gardai, while 19 per cent of individuals and 33 per cent of organisations stated they were aware women did not report to the gardai.

This reluctance to report instances of sexual harassment or other forms of sexual violence is the result of a number of factors, according to the study.

These factors include embarrassment, shame, stigma, self-blame, fear of repercussions, fear of not being taken seriously, an unsupportive system for women, and little evidence of perpetrators being held accountable.

The council stated that gender-based violence needs to be dealt with at “national policy and systemic levels”.

They said that local responses will include a communications campaign, the improvement of visibility in public areas, “gender-proofed” planning and development initiatives, and developing a multi-agency approach to implement agreed strategies and actions to tackle the issue.

While the study focused specifically on Clondalkin, Cllr Murphy said the issue is likely experienced by women and girls in many other areas, and that similar studies should be carried out around the county.

“I’m going to share the study with JPC chairs around Dublin,” she said. “I think it’s something South Dublin could lead the way in, just to show that this is a piece of work that could be best practice for all of Dublin.”

A garda spokesperson was contacted for comment about the study’s findings, but a response wasn’t received in time for print.

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