Some 200 female students of University of Galway have joined a Whatsapp group focused on getting them home safely from University of Galway over concerns about being followed or harassed in the Newcastle and Headford Road areas.
Started by third year Science student, Gillian O’Meara, who said that she had been getting daily messages from female University of Galway students about cases of being followed, harassed or groped in the Newcastle and Headford Rd areas while walking home in recent weeks.
“I am getting a new message every day from my friends about girls being followed, or harassed and in some cases even groped. It almost seems like a trend.
“A friend of mine told me about a case of a man following girls on the Headford road area, and when they tried to call the guards, they didn’t answer. Someone had to actually go into the station to report it.
“If it wasn’t for girls reporting these occurrences to each other, we would not know about them.
“I feel unsafe walking home and am constantly looking over my shoulder and I feel like I can’t stay in college after 4pm, because I feel so unsafe and scared walking home in the dark.”
Taking to Twitter, O’Meara put out a tweet on November 24, saying “thinking of making a group chat for girls in Galway living in the Newcaste area walking to and from college. There are too many attacks happening on girls. We shouldn’t have to walk home in groups, but I think we need to.
Thinking that it would “only be a few mutual friends on twitter interested,” but instead hundreds reached out, to the point that O’Meara says they might have to look into splinter groups to serve certain areas.
“When I put that tweet up, I thought there would only be a few people taking me up on it. Never did I think that we would have a Whatsapp group with almost 250 girls in it. I got so many messages from people offering to help make posters to share around campus about the group and walking home together.”
Walking groups, to and from the University Galway campus, is not a new concept. In 1995, the Students Union helped to start a walking group for students living in Corrib Village, something that continued until 1998. In 2010, a walking group that would leave from the library every hour on the hour to walk to the surrounding areas.
“A recent incident in Greenfields Estate in Westside triggered me to start the group, it happened so close to my house that I found myself being scared to walk anywhere nearby.”
The incident was shared online, with a tweet saying that a student walking home from college at 7pm on November 23, saying that she was “grabbed from behind by a man who jumped out of a bush,” the tweet also stated that the Gardaí had been looking for the man in question, but did not find him.
“The group has taken off really well, lots of girls will write in things like ‘I will be in the library until late if anyone wants to walk home after’ or give each other warnings for things they might have seen.
“It has been so successful that we might have to create splinter groups for certain areas, since it was initially started to just be for Newcastle area. Unfortunately, because the group has gotten so big, we are also scared that there might be people in the group chat who are pretending to be girls and find out what we are doing and where we are.”
When asked do the girls who share these incidents in the group or with her, report them to the Gardaí, O’Meara says that many of the girls within the group feel like the occurrences have become somewhat normalised.
“When someone shares their experiences in the group, we encourage them to go to the Gardaí, but unfortunately some girls feel like it is not that big of a deal anymore because so many incidents have happened. What often happens is that there’s a month where it is discussed publicly and the incidents stop for a month or two and then they start again. It happens so frequently that some girls feel like it’s not worth going to the Gardaí.
“The way I look at it is, every small report could lead to a big one.”
For students like O’Meara, whose major concern should be about studying or keeping on top of course work, this issue means that things like visits to the library or a normal college experience is in question.
“I’m just a student who wants to be able to go to the library in peace, I shouldn’t have to go to such lengths to feel safe, but here we are.”
Imogen O’Flaherty-Falconer, Student Union Welfare and Equality Officer for University of Galway says, “It’s a difficult position to be in to try and advise people in this situation, as it is 100 percent the perpetrators to blame and the onus should be on them to stop what they are doing. It should not be up to the victims and potential victims to take steps to safeguard themselves in this situation.
“Unfortunately, it is our reality that sometimes this has to be the case. We still have panic alarms available from the SU offices and I would advise people not to walk home alone where possible, if not possible phone a friend for a chat on the way home if you can.
“We have been in touch with the Gardaí and have notified them of this situation, so hopefully there will be increased patrols around the area. If any student falls victim to a situation like this, do not hesitate to contact us and we will be able to support you.”