Last September, a study of sexual harassment in the city was completed for Dublin City Council. The findings? It’s a problem.
“The study findings show that sexual harassment is a frequent and distressing occurrence for women and girls in Dublin City,” says the unpublished report. To date, though, there doesn’t seem to have been much follow-up.
The research looked at the areas around the corridor stretching along the Luas, from Heuston Station to the Abbey Street Luas stop in the North Inner City.
Through group interviews and questionnaires, the researchers found that sexual harassment was a persistent problem for women of all ages and backgrounds. But some were targeted more than others: younger women, gay women, homeless women, immigrant women, Traveller women, Roma women, and sex workers.
It also suggests that the guys who are responsible are of every age and background.
Sexual harassment can be physical and can come in the form of unwanted pinching, slapping, grabbing or brushing up against someone in a public space, according to UN Women.
But it also includes unwelcome sexual comments, attention, actions, gestures, stalking or exposure of genitals.
The women who took part in the study described sexual harassment as “normalised”. Some of those interviewed experienced it in their school uniforms when they were as young as 14 years old – or, in one case, even 10.
Along the Luas Line
On a Monday evening by the Museum Luas stop in the inner city, five women who stopped to talk said they felt uneasy walking in the area at night. But none had experienced sexual harassment, they said.
Women who took part in the study described the stop as a “no-man’s land”. And for some, it can feel isolated and unsafe.
Gabrielle Hyde-Smith, from Australia, moved into the area about four months ago. She was a bit guarded at first, she said, but now she never feels unsafe in this area.
However, closer to the city centre — some of which also falls within the study area — is more of a problem for her, she says. She’s experienced catcalling there in the past.
“I feel more uncomfortable on O’Connell Street,” she says.
There hasn’t been much research done in Ireland about sexual harassment in public spaces.
In 1997, the Task Force on Violence Against Women published a report showing that most sexual violence takes place in the home, so intervention and research hasn’t focused on the issue in the public realm.
This most recent study came about as a by-product of the UN Women’s Safe Cities Global Initiative, which tries to make public spaces safer for women.
Dublin City Council signed up back in March 2013 and had to commission the study as part of the programme.
Jacqueline Healy, who works on women’s health and human rights at the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), was unaware of the study carried out by Dublin City Council. As was everyone in the various organisations that we contacted.
The NWCI has consistently called for a government-funded research project on the nature and extent of sexual harassment and violence in Ireland, she said.
The last report was the 2002 Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) report, says Healy. But this is considered out of date now.
At that time, the report found that 16 percent of the women interviewed had faced sexual harassment in the previous year.
“The issue of sexual harassment is of big concern to NWCI,” says Healy. “In our work with young women it emerged as a big issue during focus groups that were held last year and anecdotally we can see it is a big issue for women in all aspects of their lives, inside and outside the workplace.”
She says it’s hard to know to what extent sexual harassment is prevalent here without doing large-scale research. An EU study from 2013 showed that 48 percent of respondents in Ireland had experienced some form of sexual harassment since the age of 15.
Dublin City Council’s report found that sexual harassment is a “gender-based violence” and a violation of women’s human rights.
“It is indicative of on-going sexist attitudes towards women . . . It impedes women and girls’ freedom of movement in the city and causes long-term harm,” it says.
A Few Hazards
The study highlighted a long list of spots that women who were interviewed said they would avoid.
Montpellier Hill is one of these. The presence of prostitution means “kerb crawlers” are hanging around and interviewees said they frequently make sexual threats.
Along Temple Street West, inadequate lighting and a feel of neglect keep some women away.
Others said that the stretch from the Ashling Hotel to Smithfield was isolated, as was the walkway from Abbey Street to the Jervis Shopping Centre. There are certainly a large number of derelict sites along this part of the Luas red line, which might contribute to this.
Results from the 2013 EU-wide study showed Ireland has the second highest number of women avoiding places or situations for fear of being assaulted.
In lonely spots and unpopulated areas, women can feel unsafe, and those interviewed for the recent study on the north-west inner city said the poor condition of the area raised safety concerns.
Some said they would avoid neglected areas even if they hadn’t heard of or experienced any hassle there. This feeds a cycle where the more that people avoid places, the more desolate they become.
Women who worked or lived along the study site took part in a walk to identify the key design problems which made them feel unsafe. Top of the list was a lack of signage and lighting.
Éilis Ryan of the Workers’ Party knows the area well and says the two main issues there that the council could address are the lack of lighting and the high level of vacant sites.
She doesn’t get constituents complaining to her about sexual harassment, but says that based on her own experiences, this would help.
“Personally, they are the things that make me feel safe in other European cities, when there’s people living along the road where you’re walking,” she says. “That’s not the case in the North Inner City. There’s stretches of main roads with absolutely nothing happening in any building.”
Ryan believes there’s a huge difference in the amount of lighting in affluent and poorer areas. She’d like to see a study on this – one similar to the recent study done on the distribution of Dublin’s trees.
She lists off some places in her constituency that can be a bit dark and daunting.
Residents near O’Devaney Gardens have recently been asking for lights to be fixed along there, she says, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Some Other Ideas
Besides improving public spaces, the report also had a few other ideas to make a more women-friendly city.
The council should bring in educational programmes for the public and agencies such as An Garda Siochana, so it’s clear to them what constitutes sexual harassment, the report says.
A spokesperson for the Garda Press Office said the force was unaware of this recommendation, because it didn’t know the report existed.
The report also suggests launching a public-awareness campaign expressing a zero-tolerance for sexual harassment. Healy of the NWCI says a sending out a message of zero-tolerance is necessary to change the current culture.
It also proposes “gender-proofing” Dublin City Council policy documents regarding public space, so that proposals are of equal benefit to men and women.
It isn’t clear if the council have plans to act on these recommendations submitted last September. (Dublin City Council failed to respond to questions asking which, if any, recommendations were or would be put in place.)