lifestyle

"Her name was Tracy and she was my friend."

Tracy Connelly

By MIA FREEDMAN

My friend Wendy Squires told me about Tracy Connelly a long time ago. She didn’t know her name back then. In fact she didn’t know Tracy’s name until yesterday.

But I clearly recall her telling me about the woman in her neighbourhood who worked the streets near Wendy’s house.

She described Tracy with warm affection, the way you’d describe any neighbour with whom you liked to stop and chat as you went to get a coffee or walked your dog.

Often Wendy would grab a coffee for Tracy while she was at the cafe and that small gesture of kindness was so gratefully received, it was like she’d handed her a hundred dollar note.

Last week, when the news broke that a woman had been murdered in St Kilda.There wasn’t much media coverage, there were no photos of the woman. The sole identifier the media used for the woman, was her profession. She was a sex worker.

I texted Wendy immediately.

“Is it her? Your friend?”

“I don’t know” Wendy said. “I’m trying to find out.”

It’s wasn’t easy because there was so little information available.

The media coverage of Tracy’s murder was perfunctory. Unlike last year when the beaming face of Jill Meagher was plastered across every media outlet, there were no photographs of Tracy Connelly in the media.

Until now.

When I was putting this post together and thinking about the difference between the coverage of (and reaction to) Jill’s murder and Tracy’s murder, I tried to find some shots of Tracy. Because without seeing her as a person, it can be harder for people to connect and to care. The media needs pictures. Without them, news coverage is tiny.

The public needs pictures too.  Just like the refugees who drown in the darkness without us ever knowing their faces, their names or their stories, people find it hard to empathise with victims – or even see them as people with grieving loved ones –  if they don’t know what they look like.

Tracy’s loved ones have kindly supplied the photos here. They are the first the public will see of a young woman whose life was cruelly and violently cut short.

Tracy and her partner, Tony Melissovas.

I’d like to think the lack of empathy, the complete absence of public support, distress or even shock about the death of Tracy Connelly is because of the lack of photos.

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Not because of her occupation. Because few murder victims are ever described by the way they support themselves.

Tracy was a sex worker – that’s what she did, not who she was.

Tracy was a person with a loving partner of 19 years. She had friends and children and she was woven into the fabric of hundreds of lives during the 41 years of her life.

Many have claimed her occupation was relevant because it appears her murderer may have been a client. And with that, everyone breathes a secret sigh of relief. It could never have happened to me, they think. The life of a sex worker couldn’t be further from mine. Except that’s not true.

Jill Meagher’s killer had a long history of raping and assaulting sex workers before he raped and kill Jill. Because men like that don’t discriminate based on the occupation of their victims.
At the weekend, Wendy wrote a widely acclaimed column about her friend, the woman she was walking the streets hoping to find. In part, she wrote:

“I don’t care that she exchanged sex for money, or that she knew the risk every time she got in a car with a client…..She deserved better. Every woman does. Tracy’s death should be noticed and it should be felt – deeply.

Tracy Connelly, Tony, and her family.

I walk the same streets as Tracy every day …..and I am well aware I could have been Tracy, just as I could have been Jill Meagher. Because men with menace on their minds are predators.

They pick on sex workers because they are easy targets. What they ultimately want is to hurt, degrade and destroy – to take a life, a thing. They don’t care how a woman makes a living, just that she is alive.”

Yesterday, I received this text from Wendy. “I thought you might like to know that it was her. I just found out it was her. Tracy Connelly was my missing friend.”

Attached to her text was a link to this podcast of a community radio show made by sex workers for the sex worker community. In this week’s episode, those who knew Tracy, remembered her.

I listened to it and was deeply moved. From what Wendy told me and from the recollections of Tracy’s friends, I feel like they have helped me to see Tracy as a person, a victim, a woman.

Here is a selection of some of the things they said….

“I knew her as a lovely lady, a friend, helpful to everybody, always sweet … She will be very missed. She was a delightful person. Wonderful to have a discussion with, very well spoken and articulate. She was lovely.”

“I’ve known Tracy for over ten years. She was loved by pretty much everybody in St Kilda and I’m sure elsewhere. She was incredibly warm, very intelligent, and exceptionally beautiful.”

“I knew Tracy for four and a half years. We saw each other daily. I really connected with her around parenting because she had some boys and I’ve got a boy. She was always interested in how my 12 year old was doing, and whether he was still being a nightmare. She always had really wise words to say.”

“She was just the most beautiful person. She’d bounce into the gatehouse, always happy, never wanted to give anyone any of her pain or show her pain. She was always interested in what everyone else was doing.  She was just lovely, a beautiful person. A light has definitely gone out at the gatehouse now. We’ll miss her terribly.”

“I was lucky, privileged, and honoured to know the beautiful Tracy. Not only was she exotic and beautiful to look at, but she’s also one of the most beautiful people that I’ve had the opportunity to meet. She’s warm, friendly, and had one of the best senses of humour.”

“Tracy was very personable. She was very dynamic in her own way. She used to tell little stories about her family, about how her dad would renovate and then her mum wouldn’t like it so he would redo it the other way. She was just like the girl next door.”

“Tracy was my friend. She was special. I know that sounds a bit cliché, but Tracy did stand out for me because she gave of herself so much. She gave to me more than I could have ever given to her. She was beautiful, she was deep, she will be deeply missed.”

RIP Tracy. As Wendy so rightly pointed out, you deserved so much better.

The St Kilda Gatehouse is holding a candlelight vigil to honour the life of Tracy Connelly, on Thursday 8th August. If you would like to stand up against violence, and show that you care, please consider attending. More information here.

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