opinion

"I was taught a lesson after the murder of Jill Meagher. Weeks later, I discovered it was the wrong one."

After Jill Meagher was murdered at 29 years old by a stranger while walking home at night, we were told in no uncertain terms that the streets belonged to the monsters now.

It was our job to stay out of their way.

Police urged women to “take notice of personal safety” and exercise caution, putting the onus on us, the victims, to prevent our own rape and murder.

‘If only Jill Meagher had made a different choice,’ went the whispers. Never mind about Adrian Bayley.

Sitting in my car one afternoon, I listened to a radio presenter introduce a segment where women would call in and detail how they planned on altering their behaviour in the wake of Meagher’s death.

Callers said they would no longer walk home after dark. They would always be accompanied. They’d carry their phones and perhaps their keys between their fingers. This, it appeared, was their mental load to carry.

I wondered; Is a world where women don’t leave their homes out of fear of being murdered truly a ‘safer’ one?

To me, it sounded awfully oppressive.

When a woman is raped and murdered, the consequences reverberate so far beyond the single criminal act. It is a form of torture perpetrated upon all women – a reminder to look over our shoulder, to check our back seat, to brace when a man passes us on the street, for we are never truly safe.

Though intellectually I rejected the premise of the message, stay out of the way of monsters, I absorbed it by osmosis.

Do not, at least for a little while, walk down the street alone at night.

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And I didn’t.

But it happened to me anyway.

It was a Tuesday at 4pm, on a well lit street, walking with my sister when I was attacked by a stranger around the corner from my home. Meagher’s name had not yet disappeared from the headlines.

A man in a hooded shirt walked towards us, and I smiled as women often do. As he approached to pass us, he darted, with the speed and savagery of a predatory animal.

The look in his eye wasn’t human. He pushed me to the ground and put his hands inside my jumper. I yelled and kicked but it made no difference. I believed, in that moment, I was about to die.

He then took a step back and began to masturbate, centimetres from my face. It was at this moment he discovered my sister was on the phone to the police, and by sheer luck, he ran away.

More than five years since that assault, I look back and think: I did what I was told.

The lesson I was taught after Jill Meagher was murdered was the wrong one, and now, the same message is being recited.

The rape and murder of Eurydice Dixon that occurred this week in Melbourne could have been prevented by one factor and one factor only: the absence of a rapist and murderer.

There is not a lesson in this for women.

We are more likely to be murdered warm in our homes, within metres of the bed we sleep in, than on the street at night.

We can take every precaution available to us.

But the monsters still exist.