What does the murder of a teenage girl say about us?

The trial of Boy A and Boy B, for the murder of Ana Kriegel, failed to answer one question: Why?

What does the murder of a teenage girl say about us?

Ana Kriegel was just 14 when she was sexually assaulted and killed. The perpetrator was 13, his accomplice likewise, their age eliciting a certain sympathy. But Ana is the innocent, the victim of a brutal crime, and also of ingrained misogyny, writes Joyce Fegan.

The trial of Boy A and Boy B, for the murder of Ana Kriegel, failed to answer one question: Why? Why would anyone sexually assault and murder a young girl, who liked to sing and to dance and who watched Disney movies with her family on a Sunday?

There is no logic or rationale, for nothing could ever justify or explain such brutal, inhumane behaviour. Especially not when the violence is committed by someone aged just 13. The age of the convicted murderers has troubled most people. How could someone so young perpetrate such violence?

And then there was the empathy, sympathy even, that someone so young could be convicted of murder and sent to prison, their lives ruined. We see our child or friend or colleague in the convicted and our empathy is elicited.

We saw it in the trial of convicted paedophile and former sports journalist, Tom Humphries. He was not a social pariah before his crime. He was a working professional with a public profile, a married man, with children, and who was involved in local sports. Many of us can relate to that image.

Humphries got two respected people to provide character references for him in court, the justification of one being that they were just trying to “help a human in a dark place”. The teenage girl whom Humphries had been inundating with text messages was in a dark, isolated, and confusing place. But our sympathies seem to, so often, go to the perpetrator.

Barely a thought was given to the young girl whose sense of self had been shredded and whose boundaries annihilated by a manipulative groomer, who knew exactly what he was doing at every juncture.

In another, recent high-profile trial, which resulted in a not-guilty verdict, there was a great deal of public sympathy for the accused. Their career was “blighted” and their reputation “ruined”. And while the accused was found not guilty of the crime with which they was charged, evidence in court highlighted their less-than-palatable attitude towards women.

And how is she now, a young woman who believed a crime was committed against her, and who reported it to the authorities, and who became a witness in a trial?

Is her life ruined? How is her reputation? What does her life look like now? Can she hold her head high in her community, when walking down her main street to get a coffee or drop a book back to her local library? Where are our sympathies for her?

And this week, as the verdict came in for the murder of Ana Kriegel, there were attempts by the media to focus on the young woman whose life was not just ruined, but whose life was brutally and forcefully ended. However, there was still focus by the public on how the verdict will affect the lives of the two boys who have now been found guilty of murder.

We read about them resting their head on their parents’ shoulder or their hand in their mother’s lap. Whose empathy would not be elicited, if even for a micro second, picturing a young teenage boy in a courtroom in such a situation?

But what about Ana? Nothing Ana did contributed to her assault and death. She was young, and like everyone of every age, she sought human connection, be that through sports or dancing or simply friendship.

Ana had no hand, act, or part in her assault or death. Someone else was wholly responsible for both of those crimes.

And while it’s OK to grapple with how someone so young can perpetrate such an offence, it is never acceptable to look at the victim for how they behaved. They were busy living and trusting and engaging with life and the people in their life.

A crime is only ever the responsibility of its perpetrator. As a society, we all need to look at how we view and treat women, not just men, but women, too, for misogyny is so often internalised.

This week, we heard of how a now-retired garda, Majella Moynihan, was harassed and intimidated into giving up a child she had, because it was the result of premarital sex. It took 36 years for her story to come to light. And in the space of those years, she has grappled with paralysing shame and several suicide attempts. That didn’t just happen on the Garda Síochána’s watch; that kind of treatment happened on Irish society’s watch.

And to finish the week, there were claims that some female pilots in bogus self-employment contracts are being told to terminate their pregnancy or terminate their employment.

And the year is 2019, not 1983. How exactly have attitudes changed?

When we ask why anyone would sexually assault and murder a young girl, who liked to sing and to dance and who watched Disney movies with her family on a Sunday, we must look at our society.

How do we all treat women and girls? How do we talk about them? How do we talk to them? Do our cheap jokes rely on tired misogyny or can we try a bit harder with our humour?

Are we raising our boys to be strong and tough and to not cry? Are we raising our girls to be accommodating and compliant and to dampen down any natural inclinations they may have towards leadership?

In a larger sense, when someone reports an alleged crime to you, or to the authorities, do we ridicule and mock them and tell them to be careful about who they accuse? Or do we listen and engage and seek facts?

Crimes do not happen in a vacuum; they happen in a society. And while we may all be left grappling with the death of a wonderful, talented young girl at the hands of a 13-year-old boy, let’s all take a look at how we treat young girls and women, who are so often the victims of violent, if not fatal, sexual assault.

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