by AMY STOCKWELL
Last week’s tragic events have been reported widely, with social media playing an important role in telegraphing information about Jill Meagher’s last known whereabouts and providing an avenue for a nation’s grief.
This was the Australian community at its best. Like never before, Australia has shown us a spontaneous and urgent community campaign to find a woman who they had never met; a powerful outpouring of support for a family who feared the worst; and ultimately, a flood of sadness for a life cut far too short.
But it has also shown Australia at its most disappointing.
We’ve seen fools spouting commentary about how Jill Meagher was dressed, what she was doing and where she was when this incident occurred. Blatantly blaming Jill for putting herself at risk, for being who and where she was that night.
Punters on the internet and hours of radio talkback have suggested that Jill should have been more careful, that she shouldn’t have been out walking home late at night, that the CCTV footage shows that her shoes were too high, that she was drunk and that her husband should have come to meet her at the bar to walk her home. Neil Mitchell from Melbourne’s 3AW flicked through Jill’s Facebook pictures and determined that she is a woman who “likes a good party” and her disappearance might be explained by her being “off partying somewhere”.
Do women who go to parties not deserve safety? Should women who go to the pub expect fear? Do shoes incite violence?
Clearly, this is nothing but condescending claptrap that only seeks to justify the inexcusable. No one should ever, ever be subject to judgement or blame for violence committed against them.
“Don’t dress that way, don’t walk that way, don’t be out so late” is the mantra of a society that thinks that it is acceptable for women to be attacked unless they keep themselves tidy and stay inside after dark. It entirely fails to place the blame and shame where it should lie: on those who perpetrate these crimes.
The rates of violence against women in this country are shockingly high. One in three women will experience physical violence; one in five will experience sexual violence (ABS, 2006, Personal Safety Survey 2005 Reissue). A person in Australia is reported missing every 15 minutes (see Missingpersons.gov.au for more detail).
As a woman, you know this danger. Because, as women, we have all experienced incidents of violence or threatened violence – and most likely, we have played it off. We have ignored it. Or at least we have not talked about it.
While women will feel many emotions about this case, one emotion it is important not to feel is fear. You already know that it can be dangerous to be a woman, simply going about your daily life – whether it is day or night; whether you’re in heels or trackies; whether you are at the pub, driving your car or buying your groceries. You are aware and you stay aware.
But it is important that, as women, we do not allow this tragic crime to stop us living our lives as we choose.
We should keep ourselves safe – not because we are weak and need protection, but because we are strong and deserve to live free from fear.
We should continue to talk to our friends, sisters and daughters about personal safety strategies that we use. My mother taught me some of the strategies I still use to stay safe; my friends taught me others.
We should never be worried about feeling stupid or being polite when our safety is at stake. We must keep being the women we are and going to the places that we go – and keep denouncing fools who would seek to blame women for the violence that they experience.
Amy Stockwell is a policy communicator, lawyer and writer, former ministerial adviser, public servant and NGO-junkie. You can follow her on Twitter here.