- 20 Dec 19
The shocking murder of 14-year-old Ana Kriegel in May 2018 and the following trial prompted some important discussions about sexual violence this year.
The rate of murder in Ireland is low by international standards if you factor out drug gang feuding. But still, every now and then a killing particularly engages the public, as the investigation proceeds. Such was the case with the murder of Ana Kriegel in May 2018. Truly, it was a chilling crime. It could have been the central killing of a Scandi noir series or a bleak murder mystery. It has parallels in the darkest and most foreboding tales of the brothers Grimm.
Ana was 14-years-old, pretty, innocent and vulnerable, and was lured to her death by two boys, one of whom violently sexually assaulted her and then beat her to death. In June, the two boys - Boy A and Boy B - were convicted of her murder. At just 13 years of age, they were the youngest to be charged with murder in the history of the State.
When they were identified on social media all hell broke loose. In the first place, the postings were in breach of Irish law regarding children in a court of law: murderers or not, they are still children. Secondly, it showed that social media posts are need to be subject to appropriate laws and properly monitored.
As the details of Ana's murder - the planning, pursuit and brutality - were revealed, a national nausea grew, a collective horror and disgust. Inevitably, everyone wondered how something so grotesque and unequivocally evil could happen.
It is, perhaps, human nature to seek answers outside the perpetrators, to look for malign influencers that inspired or shaped their actions, This has been the way for centuries, even millennia. We have blamed demons and spirits and fallen angels, offset responsibility to drugs and drink, and cited families and friends, rather than accept that some people are capable of acts that are downright evil, all on their own.
In this case, the huge number of pornographic images found on Boy A's two mobile phones predictably generated much debate. The jury was not informed of them during the trial.
The broad thrust of commentary was that teenagers watch too much porn and that their access must be closed, and their use of mobile phones and internet vigorously controlled both by parents or guardians, and by digital information and content providers. The issue was linked to broader debates on sexual harassment, sexual violence, sex trafficking and the porn industry. Some commentators got very agitated. Most of what we heard was rubbish.
Sexual violence is a hugely important issue. But co-opting teenagers' use of porn into that narrative will take everyone down the wrong track. While robust academic research confirms that a very high number of teenagers have indeed viewed porn on their phones, it also shows that only a handful have committed any related misdemeanour.
The most immediately pertinent research was led by Dr Kate Dawson of the School of Psychology in NUI Galway, and found that porn is associated with sexual aggression over time, but only - and here is the bit that really matters - if the individual is already pre-disposed to aggressive behaviour. This, Dawson says, suggests that we need to educate young people on preventing sexual violence.
For sure, we need to watch for signs that someone who is predisposed to aggression and violence is becoming a danger to themselves or to others. And we need to be prepared to act.
That readiness won't restore Ana to life, it can't fill the almost unimaginable hole in her parents' lives or heal their grief, but it might just prevent something similar happening in the future.
You can read the complete 'Whole Hog On 2019' in one brilliant sweep in the Hot Press Annual – in which we distill the highlights and low-points of the year, across 132 vital, beautifully designed pages. Starring heroes of the year Fontaines D.C. on the front we cover Music, Culture, Sport, Film, Politics, the Environment and much, much more. Buy this superb publication direct from Hot Press here.