'I'm worried they are going to turn up at my front door': Fashion designer on online abuse

'I'm worried they are going to turn up at my front door': Fashion designer on online abuse

Fashion designer Sarah Murphy received backlash on her Instagram account when she highlighted the issue of sexual violence against women.

Award-winning Irish fashion designer Sarah Murphy, who dresses celebrities for red carpets that include the Oscars, has received "menacing" online abuse for speaking out about sexual violence.

The couture designer recovered from an eating disorder which developed after she was raped. She has worked with St Vincent's Hospital contributing to a handbook about how trauma can play into the development of an eating disorder, as well as designing a tee-shirt for the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre.

However, she has received backlash on her Instagram account when she highlighted the issue of sexual violence against women.

"I talked about these things in public and this is what you get. You raise your head above the parapet and then they shoot you down," Ms Murphy told the Irish Examiner.

The abuse was so nasty she considered coming off Instagram, a platform she uses to connect with friends, family and customers.

"I've already taken every precaution possible aside from deleting my account and I don't feel I should have to disconnect myself from people I know because someone has decided they don't like what I say," Ms Murphy said.

Menacing and threatening

She describes the abuse as becoming more menacing and threatening.

"It progressively feels more menacing, there's something about sitting in your own home that feels very invasive and receiving these kinds of messages," the designer said.

"To be honest, they lead to a feeling of paranoia, the messages set off aspects of PTSD hyper-vigilance. I'm worried they are going to turn up at my front door," she said.

She regularly reports the accounts that send her abuse to Instagram, however, the anonymous users just set up new ones and the abuse continues.

If she were to go to the gardaí, she believes they would just come up against the "stone wall of social media companies" and she would have to hand over her mobile phone – which would be akin to a "digital strip search".

"There is a small group in Irish society that hold misogynistic ideals, that sees women as objects and social media amplifies that and you can scroll through and not see a person and it's very easy to send abuse to someone who you've already dehumanised them. And there are no real ramifications for them, bar one of their accounts gets deleted," she said.

The designer has used her voice to highlight the issue of eating disorders with TDs and Government ministers as well as fundraising thousands of euro for the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre during lockdown, by handmaking tee-shirts.

She has also been instrumental in publicly linking trauma's role in the development of some eating disorders.

I decided to discuss my rape which was what caused my eating disorder. There is this massive misconception that people develop an eating disorder from having an extreme diet and that's the only route to an eating disorder.

"But there is also a large section of people, where an eating disorder develops from trauma. About 40% of people with bulimia have experienced trauma. And binge eating disorder and bulimia are the most common eating disorders to develop out of a trauma such as rape," Ms Murphy said.

Belfast rape trial

These are the kinds of issues she has used her Instagram following to highlight, ever since deciding to go public about her experience, following the wall-to-wall coverage of the Belfast rape trial in 2018.

"I only started talking about it in 2018 around the trial up in Belfast. At the time, I couldn't turn on the news, or the radio. I had done my 2018 winter collection based on my experiences. Here I was avoiding the TV and designing the collection at the same time.

"Then there I was at the press launch in Brown Thomas and the usual question came: 'So what inspired this collection?' And I just blanked out. After this, I decided that it's ridiculous that I'm putting myself through this hiding," Ms Murphy said.

She then started posting about her experience of recovery on Instagram and this is what prompted the online abuse to start.

When asked if she had any ideas about how women in particular can counter the abuse they receive online, she said she did not have an answer.

The more you seem to speak out about something the more abuse you get." 

She has been "too-ing and fro-ing between actually leaving Instagram" as a result of the abuse.

"You start to question yourself, because you think you brought this on yourself," said the designer.

"I don't want to delete my account because they've got what they've wanted".

  • If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, contact
  • BodyWhys (The eating Disorders Association of Ireland) or call 01 210 7906
  • Rape Crisis Centre or call 1800 77 8888

More in this section

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day. PS ... We would love to hear your feedback on the section right HERE.

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day. PS ... We would love to hear your feedback on the section right HERE.