Courtney. Natalina. Aiia. Eurydice. What Is Happening In Melbourne?

Sunday marked the fourth time in less than 12 months a woman's body was found in a public space in Melbourne.

Courtney Herron, 25, was found "brutally bashed" to death in Royal Park, a crime with strong echoes of the murder of comedian Eurydice Dixon in June 2018.

Courtney's body was found five months after Palestinian woman Aiia Maasarwe was found in shrubbery outside a shopping centre in Bundoora. A fourth woman, Natalina Angok, was found in Chinatown in April.

Their deaths are not linked, but there's a sense of familiarity to their stories which can't be ignored.

Courtney Herron, Aiia Maasarwe, Natalina Angok, Eurydice Dixon
L-R: Courtney Herron, Aiia Maasarwe, Natalina Angok and Eurydice Dixon. Photos: AAP and Supplied.

"Certainly there have been instances in our recent past where women have been attacked and they have been attacked by men," assistant police commissioner Luke Cornelius said about Courtney's death.

"The key point is this is about men's behaviour, it's not about women's behaviour. Women, and men, are absolutely entitled [to] and should feel safe to go about their normal day-to-day activities."

What is happening in Melbourne?

According to 'Counting Dead Women in Australia', a 2018 paper published in the Journal of Family Violence, women are usually killed inside their own home, by someone they know, who is usually a former or current partner.

Natalina, Courtney, Aiia and Eurydice were all found in public spaces. So is this a tragic statistical anomaly? Or this there something specific to the city of Melbourne?

In other words, why does it feel like a twisted case of déjà vu when yet another crime scene is established in a Melbourne park?

"Violence against women is certainly not a problem unique to Melbourne," Dr Mary Iliadis, a criminologist at Deakin University, told 10 daily.

"It's actually reflective of a national emergency, as opposed to something we need to be focusing on merely in Victoria."

Mourners are seen at a makeshift mural for Courtney Herron whose body was found in Royal Park, Melbourne, Sunday, May 26, 2019. Dog walkers found the woman's body among logs and trees near the North Park Tennis Club just before 9.30am on Saturday. (AAP Image/James Ross) NO ARCHIVING
Mourners are seen at a makeshift memorial for Courtney Herron in Royal Park, Melbourne. Photo: AAP.

In fact, Victoria is arguably leading the nation in making inroads into dealing with family violence. A landmark Royal Commission into the issue made 227 recommendations, which Daniel Andrews' state government committed to implementing in full.

The Andrews Labor Government has so far invested $2.7 billion towards implementing the recommendations, more than half of which are underway. Additionally, in Monday's state budget, more than $200 million was committed for public housing properties, as well as $50 million for homelessness services.

"We are reminded with heartbreaking regularity of why this work is so important and why every single intervention we put in place matters," Victoria's Minister for Women Gabrielle Williams told 10 daily.

"From teaching children about respectful relationships to ensuring women and children have a safe place to go if they are fleeing abuse."

Iliadis argues it comes back to an issue of gender and male entitlement, and a need to address broader structural inequalities between men and women.

"This manifestation of power and control is used by men to maintain dominance and control over women, which produces gender inequalities and strips women of their autonomy, safety and control," she said.

Eurydice had messaged a friend saying she was "almost home safe" before she was killed. Image: Facebook
Melbourne's Public Housing

It's impossible to look at Courtney Herron's death outside of the issue of public housing, given she was experiencing homeless at the time of her death.

Courtney was trying to access public housing, her friend Jessica Bateman told The Project, but had been waiting "months and months" on a waiting list for a rare property.

Her death has prompted calls from Victoria's peak homelessness body, the Council to Homeless Persons, for the state to more than triple its investment of 1000 units of public housing by 2022, to 3000 per year.

“Violence against women occurs in every part of our society, but homeless women are particularly vulnerable,” CHP CEO Jenny Smith said.

“There are far too few housing options that women on low incomes can afford, and crisis accommodation and refuges are full of people who can’t move on to permanent housing, because the affordable options just aren’t there.’’

Is it a question of making parks safer?

While it is impossible to completely protect people from random acts of violence, Nicole Kalms -- an associate professor at Monash University's Art, Design and Architecture faculty -- said there are ways to design public spaces to increase safety.

Good visibility, clear orientation and pathways, efficient lighting, well-maintained public toilets, and spaces that foster frequent use are all examples of gender-sensitive planning, she wrote in a piece for The Conversation in 2018.

But while Australia has guidelines for safer parks, reports of women feeling unsafe and even avoiding parks shows these guidelines "aren't enough".

Melbourne local councillor Bridgid O'Brien this week tabled a motion calling for park design and management to take gender equality into account in the wake of Courtney's death. A report addressing everything from lighting to panic alarms and appropriately trained supervisors will be presented to the council.

Flowers laid for Eurydice Dixon in the sporting oval where her body was found. Image: AAP

Parks are just one area that need addressing, said Plan International CEO Susanne Legena.

"The root cause of violence against women is now widely acknowledged, and that is: a deeply entrenched belief that women are not equal to men," she said.

She called for leaders at local, state and federal level to listen to women who report harassment and moving through cities in fear.

"They must take all forms of street harassment and violence seriously," she said.

"We owe it to Courtney. We owe it to Aiia. To Eurydice and Natalina. And to each of our daughters, friends, and sisters."

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