A message to my sons and daughter: Be vigilant

Bec Sparrow challenges the notion that it’s victim blaming to teach your children to take care of themselves. We need to take care of ourselves – because the world is broken…

Close to twenty years ago I spent my time travelling the world alone. It was my job as a travel writer.  And so I was paid to wander the streets of Kuwait City, Alice Springs, New York, Wellington and Borneo alone – visiting monuments and landmarks, eating in cafes and striking up conversations with locals and fellow travellers along the way.

I loved that job but in truth I was always just a little on edge. Because I was alone. Nearly always alone. And I felt that made me an easy target.

READ MORE: Masa was a student. She was a daughter. She was a friend. She could have been any one of us.

So I took precautions. I took care of myself.

“No victim is ever to blame. Ever. But until lots of things change – our patriarchal culture, our woeful care for the severely mentally ill, the out-of-touch attitudes of our judges and parole boards – the truth is we need to walk through this world with our eyes wide open.”

I removed the hire-car swing-tags and signage out of any hire cars before I drove them out of the airport car park.

When walking I studied where I was going BEFORE I left my hotel and tried as much as possible not to walk the streets with my face in a map or guidebook.

I left the DO NOT DISTURB sign on my hotel room door whilst I was out.

I read up on notorious ‘dodgy’ spots and steered clear.  At different times and in different places I avoided walking anywhere alone at night

And always in the back of my head was the advice I’d heard from a self-defence expert:  opportunistic attackers need the element of surprise on their side to succeed.  So they’re looking for the easiest target, the person who’s drunk or stoned or pre-occupied and won’t see them coming.

I’ve never forgotten it.

Yesterday, like many, my circle of friends was consumed with conversations about the random brutal murders of two women and one man. All of them out alone. All of them minding their own business. All of them doing what they have a RIGHT to do. LIVE THEIR LIVES.  But when I  went on to mention that I planned to teach my sons and daughter to be smart, to be vigilant when out walking alone at night or in secluded areas  (at any time of day or night) I was accused of victim-blaming. I was told I was part of the problem.

Jill Meagher was raped and killed by Adrian Bayley while walking home in Melbourne’s Brunswick in 2012.

Me saying that I would tell my kids to pay attention to their surroundings should they be walking home from a train station or a bus stop at 11pm makes me part of the problem?


Why should WE change our behaviour and live in fear? One friend said to me, “Why should WE have to be vigilant?”

For the counter argument: The one safety tip that will stop women being killed.

I’ll tell you why.

Because we live in a country that is woefully inept at providing adequate care for society’s most high-risk mentally ill citizens.

Because we live at a time when our judges and parole boards seem breathtakingly incapable of taking crimes of male violence against women anywhere near seriously.  A history of sexual violence against women or children isn’t enough to keep a man behind bars, it seems.


RELATED: She was the victim of unthinkable domestic violence. But when she pulled out a gun, she was the one charged.

Because some men, men who are narcissists or psychopaths or sociopaths, could not give two flying f%cks about why violence against women is wrong.  They cannot be rehabilitated and to think they will be is naive.

Because the world is broken.

Morgan Huxley was murdered by Jack Kelsall in his Sydney home in 2013.

I’m not telling you or any other man or woman that they can’t walk home alone at 2am.

You can.

It’s your right.

I did it myself countless times in my 20s.

But here’s what I am telling you. When you find yourself in a secluded area – day or night – be smart. Keep your wits about you. Be alert to your surroundings. Do not take your safety for granted.

The danger with these conversations is that by nature they occur on the back of a heinous act of violence.  And so it can be misconstrued that they come with a subliminal tut-tut to the recent victims.  An insidious whisper of  ‘Why was she alone?  Why was he drunk?  Why did she take that short cut? Why did he have headphones in his ears?”

There is none of that here. NONE.

No victim is ever EVER to blame.

But it is ludicrous to take better care of your car than of your own personal safety.  You won’t leave your car unlocked in a dodgy area of town but you’ll walk those streets alone a little bit drunk at 1am?

“Until a lot of things change, the truth is we need to walk through this world with our eyes wide open.”

It makes no sense.

It is also RIDICULOUS to be told that it is impossible to make yourself less of an obvious target in certain situations. Walk home blind drunk alone at 4am and you may as well have a target drawn on your back.

READ MORE: An open letter to women, from a man who is concerned about their safety.

Men need to stop beating and raping and stalking and harassing and assaulting and murdering women.

Agree. Agree. Agree. Agree. Agree. Agree.

But get back to me when that’s been achieved. Okay?

Get back to me when all the blokes have signed on the dotted line.

Get back to me when the world is no longer broken.

Until lots of things change – our patriarchal culture, our woeful care for the severely mentally ill, the out-of-touch attitudes of our judges and parole boards – the truth is we need to walk through this world with our eyes wide open.

Take care of yourself. That’s all I’m saying.  Man, woman, young, old — take care.