Leading article

Opinion: Newtownabbey tragedy shows our society must change

Leading Article

At a time when anger over attacks on women in any context had already reached unprecedented levels, the discovery of a double murder followed by a suicide in Newtownabbey was an appalling development.

Police believe that Ken Flanagan fatally stabbed firstly his mother, Karen McClean, at a flat, and then his girlfriend, Stacey Knell,at a separate house, before taking his own life late on Friday night, and have said they are not seeking anyone else in connection with the deaths, which were another shocking example of domestic violence.

Sarah Everard's abduction and murder in London earlier this month led to a major intensification of a wider debate over the safety of women which has been steadily gaining ground over recent years.

Ms Everard (33) disappeared while walking home through a densely populated part of the south of the city, and her body was found a week later hidden in woodland in Kent.

A serving police officer has been charged with her kidnap and murder, and the specific circumstances cannot be properly discussed until his trial, scheduled to take place later this year, reaches an outcome.

However, the general consideration of the threat presented to women by many men, ranging from verbal abuse to direct acts of violence, has become an issue of the utmost importance.

A YouGov survey published in The Guardian on March 10 indicated that virtually every young woman in the UK, an incredibly disturbing 97 per cent of all those aged between 18 and 24, had experienced sexual harassment, with 80 per cent saying it had taken place in a public place.

An equally alarming finding in the same poll, which must be treated with the utmost seriousness by the authorities, was that 96 per cent of respondents said they did not report such incidents, with 45 per cent insisting it would not change anything.

We do not yet know precisely what led to the double murder in Newtownabbey but, at some stage, the perpetrator, who had a history of drug abuse, evidently moved from disrespecting the women in his life to actively hating them.

Unacceptable attitudes are plainly present among some men from an early age and, while the confirmation of an official Stormont strategy on the protection of women is essential, the process of addressing a major crisis needs to begin in each individual family. Our society must change.

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