The Pavement Campaign Challenging Sexual Assault in Dublin

Words: Izzy Copestake

Words: Izzy Copestake

Empower Her* Voice’s latest campaign is calling out groping and catcalling in Dublin. In just a week, letters written on the pavement have started important conversations around safety in clubs, and has even prompted an immediate positive change in one of the city’s best known venues: Wigwam.

Aoife was on her way to get groceries when a man twice her age shouted at her: “Nice tits, c’mere to me.” When she looked over, he was with a group of other older men who burst into laughter. The comment at first, terrified her. This feeling morphed into humiliation at the public objectification of her body, and finally: anger. So when Aoife saw Empower Her* Voice‘s Instagram post, showing how another girl had revisited the place she was catcalled and wrote the words on the pavement, she saw an opportunity to take a stand.

Aoife started getting catcalled when she was twelve. Perhaps an age shocking to some, but a story all too familiar to many women in Dublin. Over half of all Irish women have reported being a victim of sexual violence in their lifetime.

Empower Her* Voice is a community-based platform for people of marginalised genders. Inspired by the Instagram page @catcallersofnyc, founders Esme Dunne and Kitty Astor wanted to raise awareness surrounding catcalling and groping in Dublin. Esme tells District Magazine the idea began when she was sitting by the Molly Malone statue and witnessed a common sight: yet another tourist grabbing her chest for ‘good luck’. A couple of months ago, graffiti appeared across Malone’s chest saying: “seven years bad luck.” The words have since been removed, but to kickstart their own #chalkback campaign, EH*V revisited the statue, writing in chalk “don’t touch me” and “groping isn’t good luck” on the pavement below.

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EH*V launched a Google form, allowing members of their community to report their catcalling anonymously, by writing what was said, and where. “We didn’t expect the amount of enthusiasm or attention that we’ve had,” says Dunne. In just under four days, the Google form received 60 submissions. Empower Her* Voice plan to revisit each location, and write each catcall down. “I hope that by writing each catcall down on the pavement it will make people aware of how embedded it is in our culture,” says Dunne. “I hope the men that say these things might see this and read it. When they see it physically written down it feels worse.”

“A stranger might come up to you and say something which makes you feel terrible, but they don’t think about it twice”, continues Astor. “By writing it down we force people to see what is said to us, literally on the daily.”

One of EH*V’s most widely shared posts went one step further, calling out an incident that occurred outside Wigwam. Sully was in the queue outside the venue when she was groped underneath her skirt. Upon arriving at the door to the club, she informed the bouncer of what had happened, to which he replied ‘Well what did you do to instigate it’. After complaining, the group was refused entrance.

“Being groped as a woman is, unfortunately, such a universal experience”, Sully tells District. “Being met with that reaction by someone I thought was on my side left me angry, upset, and vulnerable.” After much deliberation over publicly broadcasting her story, she wrote what the bouncer had said to her in chalk outside the venue.

The post was shared by multiple accounts, many also calling the venue out and tagging them. However, instead of ignoring the issue, owners of Wigwam, Bodytonic and EH*V met yesterday morning to tackle the issues head-on. A comprehensive Late Night & Event Safety Improvement Plan has now been announced. Wigwam will now be one of the first clubs in Dublin to employ a Late Night Safety Officer, whose sole purpose is to keep individuals safe and prevent an incident like this from ever happening again.

Speaking about the chalking which calls out clubs, Astor from EH*V says, “We’re not asking for people to boycott somewhere. We’re asking people in charge to change their venue and make it safe. We don’t want to stop going out, we just want to be safe when we do.”

Empower Her* Voice’s campaign has been powerful to watch. It’s given the silent victims of catcalling and groping the power to challenge a culture that brushes these acts of violence under the rug. In a short space of time, the campaign has prompted a radical and promising response from Wigwam. Hopefully, this will set the tone for a new era of club safety in Dublin, which says no to gender-based violence.

[Aoife’s name had been changed for confidentiality reasons]