opinion

"A third of young Aussie women don’t feel safe out at night. I'm one of them."

One third of young Australian women don’t feel they should be out in public places at night. Quite simply, they don’t think it’s safe.

Commissioned by Plan International Australia and Our Watch, a report called A Right to the Night was released this week, and it’s based on the responses of 600 women aged 15 to 19 from all corners of the nation.

A quarter of those questioned also didn’t think young women should travel on public transport alone. Ever.

Many are saying the findings are “shocking”, but I’m sad to admit that they didn’t surprise me one iota.

The fact is, some women, myself included, feel a sense of unease seep into their chests when daylight is over.

It’s something in the back of my mind every night as I walk the block from the bus stop to my house, removing my headphones from my ears and clutching my house keys in hand just in case.

Can you really blame me or the young women who feel strongly that their safety could be jeopardised when the sun sets and the street lights cast their glow onto the pavement?

In March this year, a group of women were celebrating a hen’s night out in Sydney. A witness told News Corp that two men made sexual comments to the group outside a fast food outlet.

“The women defended themselves and he said ‘if you don’t shut up I’ll punch you in the face,” the witness explained.

“He punched four to five girls in the head, holding them by the neck and punching them.”

In November 2013 a then 20-year-old woman was heading home in a taxi after a night out in Ringwood, Victoria. She sat in the front seat and was sexually assaulted by the driver. This week, her perpetrator was spared jail time due to the magistrate’s concerns over the long delays between the attack and charges being laid.

One of the defence counsel, Ben Mallick’s arguments was that “she could’ve avoided this incident happening by sitting in the back seat.”

Yes, as though her horrific ordeal was down to a poor and unfortunate choice of seating.

There are other tragic examples that have been tattooed onto the Australian woman’s psyche.

Jill Meagher, Masa Vukotic, Stephanie Scott.

Masa Vukotic, the 17 year old who was stabbed to death walking in a Melbourne park last March.

Stephanie Scott, the 26-year-old dedicated school teacher who was murdered last year when visiting her school out of hours, just one week before her wedding.

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And of course, Jill Meagher, the bubbly 29 year old who was walking home from drinks with friends in Melbourne in 2012 when she was sexually assaulted and murdered.

Each time we learn of another woman being abused, assaulted or losing her life to a random or senseless act of violence, the advice is flung at us and it sticks like tar. This is despite the fact that, statistically, women are more likely to be attacked by someone we know than a stranger.

Text me when you get home safely, okay? Because otherwise, I might think something terrible’s happened to you.

Make sure you don’t talk on your phone walking around when it’s late. Because someone might creep up and attack you.

Don’t ever have your headphones in while walking alone at night. You won’t be able to hear an attacker approaching.

Image: iStock.

They’re the recommendations I’ve heard so many times that my key-holding, back-watching behaviour has become as second nature, as subconscious, as reaching for a jacket when I’m cold. And they only help to perpetuate the victim-blaming mindset that’s rife in our community.

In fact, the most disturbing finding revealed in the report was that seventeen per cent of the young women agreed that a girl wearing revealing clothing is partially responsible for unwanted attention or harassment.

"It's just so shocking and disappointing that a country like ours is still suffering from these sort of ideas, and this fear that's spreading for all the young women," 18 year old Grady-Mae Dixon told the ABC in reaction to the findings.

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Image: iStock.

"When someone gets attacked, or a woman specifically, the question is: 'What was she wearing?' 'How did she act?' 'Was she drinking?' 'Cause she was asking for it if she was drinking."

The onus is on a woman to keep herself safe, to watch her back, ensure she’s not putting herself in a dangerous situation.

I’m not discounting the fact that many men also fall victim to horrible, unnecessary acts of violence, but the dialogue surrounding these attacks never hinges on what they were wearing, or why they were out alone at night. (Post continues after gallery.)

As Deputy Leader of the Opposition Tanya Plibersek said last year, when the murder of Stephanie Scott prompted calls for Australians to confront violence against women, we need stronger legal responses and “attitudinal changes” to ripple throughout our community if we're to see this fear dissipate.

"We need, from very early childhood, education in respectful relationships."

Until then, if you’re feeling fear, know that you’re not alone, know that you’re not “silly” for experiencing it. But also know that it needs to change.

Image: iStock. supplied.

Do you feel safe when you're out and about at night?