opinion

Jill Meagher. Hannah Clarke. Sarah Everard. Why are we still waiting for our watershed moment?

This post deals with domestic violence and could be triggering for some readers. 

Almost a decade ago, in September 2012, Jill Meagher was out having drinks with friends in Brunswick, Melbourne.

At 1.30am, the 29-year-old left the pub to walk home. 

But she never made it.

Jill Meagher. Image: Getty.

Instead, she was dragged down a laneway, raped and murdered, just 400m from the house she shared with husband, Tom.

Her killer, Adrian Bayley, dumped her body in the boot of his car, drove her to South Gisbourne, 30km away, and buried her in a shallow grave by the side of the road.

Days later, 30,000 men, women and children, marched down the Melbourne street where Jill was last seen, a community united in their grief. 

According to the organiser, Phillip Werner, it was a show of support for “peace, hope, non-violence and solidarity with all women”. 

It felt like a watershed moment. It should have been a watershed moment.

***

In February 2020, Hannah Clarke was on the school run. 

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She planned to drop off her children, Aaliyah, six, Lainah, four, and Trey, three, before returning to her parents' Brisbane home where she was staying, having recently left her marriage.

But she never made it. 

As she approached her car, her estranged husband ambushed her. He doused Hannah and the children in petrol and set them alight. Aaliyah, Lainah and Trey died at the scene, Hannah later in hospital. 

The story made global headlines. Hannah, 31, had suffered years of psychological abuse and controlling behaviour at the hands of her ex, and so it opened up conversations about coercive control, strengthening calls to criminalise it. 

It felt like a watershed moment. It should have been a watershed moment.

***

Exactly a year ago, Sarah Everard was walking home.

Sarah Everard was kidnapped and murdered while walking home in London. Image: AAP.

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She left a friend's place in Clapham, south London, and called her partner as she began the 5km walk to the nearby borough of Brixton where she lived.

But she never made it.  

Instead, the 33-year-old was stopped by a serving Metropolitan Police Officer who falsely arrested her for breaching COVID restrictions, handcuffed her and put her in his car. 

He drove her for one hundred terrifying kilometres to Ashford, Kent, southeast of London, where he raped and strangled her, before burning her body and clothes in an old refrigerator on land he owned. 

Thousands of women took to the streets. 

Despite strict COVID restrictions, they gathered for a candlelight vigil that quickly turned into a rally. 

The crowd chanted, ''Shame on you!" "How many more?".

The outpouring of anger was visceral. 

It felt like a watershed moment. It should have been a watershed moment.

***

It's a grim reality to confront that it was pretty white women we made the most noise for. But the even grimmer reality is how little has changed, despite our outrage.

Last month, UK statistics showed that rape and sexual offences have risen sharply since Sarah Everard's murder; the highest number in a year since records began. Meanwhile, the rate of rape convictions continues to slump.

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Here in Australia, we're still reeling from an allegation of rape from inside the walls of Parliament House itself. A year on, not much has changed.

We're also still losing one woman a week to murder by a current or former partner, a statistic that's barely budged in a decade.

At Mamamia, we keep writing the same story, over and over.

Another name, another life, another moment that should have been a turning point for change, but wasn't.

Why are we still waiting for our watershed moment?

But maybe it's not that simple. How can it be, when rape culture is so deeply entrenched that it even thrives inside the walls of what should surely be the safest building in the country?

Maybe a watershed moment is not what we actually need. We've finally succeeded in making violence against women a part of the national conversation; you only had to hear Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins speak at the National Press Club last month to know that. 

Maybe the key to true change is in the smaller moves forward - the promises that are kept. 

Maybe now we have our foot in the door, we can focus on what comes next. Like the government's imminent 10-year Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children.

The first pillar of the plan they're proposing is prevention. They say that this is about "changing the story" in households, workplaces, and schools; stopping violence before it starts by challenging views and attitudes. Working from the ground up. 

It's a long game, no doubt. But could we finally be on the road towards progress?

So far, in 2022, we've lost seven women to violence. It's only March.

So while the government looks to implement its new plan, we will just keep losing women.

And we'll keep telling the nightmarish story we know all too well. Until we don't have to anymore. 

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.