Let’s talk about…The Navan assault

Why are we discussing the video of the Navan assault more than the attack itself?

By now, most of us will have heard of the violent and deeply upsetting assault carried out in Navan on May 18th, wherein a 14-year-old boy was brutally attacked by a group of youths on his way home from school. A considerable amount of people will have even seen it, with graphic footage depicting the horrific attack having been widely circulated online over the past number of days.

This video was actually how many people were introduced to news of the assault; either by coming across the footage on social media, or by hearing about clips of a violent attack circulating. But by now, the video’s circulation has ebbed, with a Garda spokesperson commenting last week, “Out of respect for the victim, in this case, we would request that people refrain from sharing this video”.

The issue of the video’s circulation was also condemned in the Dáil on Thursday, with Deputy Pearse Doherty acknowledging that while many people probably shared it with good intentions (trying to raise awareness), it was unfair on the victim and his loved ones for the video to be so readily available, and for them to be bombarded with clips of the violent attack any time they went online. As such, Doherty called on social media operators to remove it from their platforms.

To contextualise how violent the attack was, and so  how graphic the video presumably is (I’ve not personally seen it): the boy was hospitalised due to the severity of his injuries, suffering a concussion, broken teeth, and extensive bruising that left him with the imprint of one attacker’s shoe on his face. I can’t imagine what he’s going through, but I agree the last thing he should have to deal with while making a physical recovery from this, is to have his ‘mental recovery’ potentially hindered by the constant (and not always well-intentioned) sharing of a graphic video depicting the attack.

Continuing his comments in the Dáil, Deputy Doherty also called on social media operators to take more responsibility for what content they allow in general. He noted, “There is a disturbing rise in young people orchestrating these attacks and filming them for public online consumption”, describing the assault in Navan as part of a “trend” of attacks being carried out “for social media content”.

There is of course some truth to this, but while social media can indeed play a role in condoning violent attitudes and be used to spread videos intended to humiliate victims further, describing the recent assault as an “orchestrated attack for social media content” overlooks the attackers’ apparent actual motivations.

Last week, Gardaí confirmed they were investigating the attack as a hate-motivated crime, and that the victim was targeted for his sexuality. According to a family member, the 14-year-old has been “harassed for being gay” since first year in secondary school, with bullying having already been an “ongoing issue” long before eventually turning physical with the recent attack. In the Dáil on Thursday, Deputy Doherty described the assault as being “orchestrated… for social media content”, and the Tánaiste dubbed it a “random attack”, but what we know now is that it was anything but random; the victim was personally targeted, and not because of a “trend” of “filming (attacks) for public online consumption” – but because of blatant bigotry.

So much of the discourse around the recent attack has been centred around the additional grievance of it having also been filmed and shared online, and as I said, I understand completely why this aspect of the story has been highlighted to the extent it has out of respect for the victim. However, it’s been strange to see how much discourse has been taken up by discussing the video and how it was shared, as compared with on the assault itself and the hate-fuelled motivations that inspired it. Because while the video is condemnable, without it, the core issue of a 14-year-old being attacked in broad daylight by a group of his peers solely because of his sexuality remains.

Allegedly, before the story blew up, the incident had already been reported to the Gardaí by family members, but nothing came of that contact, with one relative claiming they “went to the station the same day and the guards initially said… they had ‘more important matters to attend to’”. That same relative also commented that they themselves shared the video of the attack in the hope that it would “gain traction online” and the “authorities and school would feel pressured to do something about it”.

I don’t find it inconceivable to suggest the attack would never have received the same attention had the video not made it such a major news story. It seems to me, unfortunately, very believable, considering how many brutal attacks on the LGBTQ+ community have occurred in recent months, and how these incidents usually receive only a fraction of the coverage the Navan assault has.


Increase in hate crimes


2022 was the most violent year in a decade. The Gardaí reported a 29% increase in hate crimes last year, those related to sexuality accounting for 22%. Just a couple of months ago, a gay Cork man lost an eye socket in a violent attack. In March, a trans woman suffered several lacerations and a suspected fractured hand during a daytime attack. At the end of last year, a popular Dublin drag queen was injured in an unprovoked homophobic attack on Dame Street.

Violence against the community has been on the rise for quite some time, but it rarely receives the same national attention the Navan assault (rightly) has. I understand that the video was many people’s introduction to this story and that the violence depicted in it (and the fact it was filmed at all) is what brought this issue home for a lot of people, but more focus needs to be given to the issue that led to this boy being attacked in the first place – Ireland’s growing hate problem.

An anti-hate bill is currently on its way, which should offer some degree of protection going forward. But it alone will not be enough. Ireland needs to stop ignoring the growing problem of intolerance within our population, and the authorities need to be taking attacks against vulnerable communities more seriously, not just when it’s a big news story. Because the more they don’t do so, the more it sends the signal to communities that they’re unsafe – and to individuals planning to commit harmful acts that they will face no repercussions for their actions.

We can condemn social media and discuss the video all we like, but if we really want to make sure something like this never happens to another child, we need to be talking more about the core issue of hate and putting pressure on our elected officials to stamp out bigotry and put safeguards in place.