Lizzie Fleming was shocked and frightened when an intruder she discovered in her living room one night made a lewd comment. But she was also very surprised by the charge that was brought against him. She has decided to add her voice to those of the many women speaking out around Ireland at the moment, about their experiences
A WOMAN who lives alone and found an intruder in her home has called for society to take a more serious approach to crimes against women.
Lizzie Fleming from West Cork was startled late one night when she left her bedroom to find a man standing in her living room.
The drunk man also made a lewd proposition to her and after some strained conversation, eventually left.
Lizzie was surprised when the man was charged with trespass, rather than any crime in connection with the lewd sexual comment he had made, but she says she understands that the gardaí felt they had no option.
‘I know the gardaí felt that they would have better success with the trespass charge, and I understand why, but I think the system needs to change,’ she told The Southern Star, having decided to go public about her experience, in light of the recent conversations in Ireland about violence against women.
The crime against Lizzie will now be recorded as one of trespass despite her having felt there was a definite sexual element to the incident.
Lizzie, who moved to West Cork from the UK over a decade ago, said she prides herself on being a very calm and rational person. Indeed, on the night of the frightening incident at her home, she remained calm throughout and was even able to give the gardaí a good description of the intruder, and details of the car they had arrived in.
But some time later, she found her behaviour beginning to change. She became much more nervous about security at her home, would get very anxious with the sound of any car on her lane, and became very agitated when she visited the town where the perpetrator was living.
She would also lie awake at night thinking of the ‘what ifs’ if either herself or the intruder had acted differently on the night, as her home is in an isolated area with very few neighbours.
‘These kind of thoughts are not healthy and I try not to dwell on them. I feel lucky that none of this happened, but I feel sick thinking about it,’ she said.
‘I also have anxiety around gossip and who might know about what happened, even though I have nothing to be ashamed about.’
‘I am left wondering what the defendant’s motivations were and these thoughts are deeply troubling and anxiety-inducing,’ added Lizzie. ‘Although I, like most people, don’t want to be limited by gender stereotypes, I can’t help feeling what women all over the world feel in such situations – threatened and intimidated by men. The events of that night have not done much to assuage my negative feelings about a culture of misogyny that is enabled and encouraged in pub banter, on social media, in pornography, and even in everyday conversations between some men that leads directly to the sort of thing that happened to me, and worse.’
She said the intruder later apologised, describing his lewd comments as ‘cheeky banter’, but she saw them as much more sinister than that. Society must stop making light of these types of comments, she said.
Women are advised not to fight back or say anything to inflame a situation, said Lizzie, lest that might prompt more violence and escalate the situation. ‘We can’t always run away – I, for example, had nowhere to run to. We tend to freeze.’ Lizzie says she would describe herself as a ‘feminist’ and, in light of the conversation being had in Ireland in recent weeks, she believes it is up to women like her to speak out and say that there is certain male behavoiur which is just not acceptable and should not be treated lightly.
If a crime has any sexual element to it, there should be laws which make it easier to prosecute on that basis, so such crimes are not hidden and will be seen in the statistics.
‘I see it as a conspiracy of silence. I feel I needed to talk about these things so a precedent is set. We don’t want to live in fear.’
Lizzie also believes the system needs to protect women who decide to come forward if they are victims of serious crimes like sexual assault or rape. ‘I have heard the statistics about the small number of rape cases that are prosecuted, and how victims feel they have been dragged through the mud by the system. There is an appalling conviction rate for some of these crimes, so I understand why women say why would they bother reporting it. All this has to change.’
She said women need to be encouraged to come forward and report incidents, and not to be swayed by what their friends or family might think of them. And also, all of us, as a community, must support all women when they come forward. We might need to accept, also, that the men we love, might need to be held accountable.
But Lizzie has huge praise for the gardaí who came to her house that night.
‘The gardaí were extremely professional and supportive. One of the male gardaí even urged me not to make light of the incident when I wondered aloud if I was making too much of a fuss.’
She says she would normally be a very private person who keeps her head down but her strong beliefs have led her to want to ‘control the narrative’ about women today.
‘I hope more and more women come forward and tell their stories. I hope what has happened in recent weeks creates a snowball effect, and leads to change.’
Lizzie added: ‘I think this man picked the wrong woman, to be honest. I love where I live and I don’t want this to change me. And, for women everywhere, for the mná, I don’t want to be silent on this anymore.’