Why Safety For Women Is Just An Illusion
And you should be furious.
This month I’ve been thinking a lot about safety in the streets – almost non-stop. I’m so obsessed with the subject because my boyfriend has just moved to Brunswick, where I lived six years ago, in 2012, when ABC journalist Jill Meagher was raped and murdered on her way home from a night out with friends. Like me, Jill lived in Brunswick.
Returning to the area, years later, I’m filled with a strange frisson of fear as I tramp through Brunswick streets alone, though the suburb has changed dramatically in the time since Meagher was brutally murdered. The elevated threat of danger, which those of us who lived and worked in northern Melbourne, felt at the time, still lingers. It’s been a month since the move, and amid the warm familiarity of favourite shops and pubs and streets, I can’t forget that insecurity.
Now we are jolted yet again by a visceral violence. In the large park just down the road from Brunswick, a distinct, horrific tragedy has occurred. This is the park where my friends and I power walk at strategic times to catch the Carlton Football Club during their morning training. It’s the park where I walked home briskly from late shifts at the bar on unnumbered occasions, when a taxi seemed too expensive.
Her name was Eurydice Dixon. She was a comedian, a bright young woman. And she was raped and murdered, discovered on the soccer field in Princes Park by a passerby early one morning this week. She was on her way home from a comedy gig, just metres from her house. She had just messaged a friend to say, “I’m almost home safe, HBU?”
I am aggrieved by Dixon’s death. I’m deeply sad for her friends and family, and I’m furious that a young woman did not make it home safely in our community this week.
Deaths like Dixon’s, like Meagher’s, are not enormously common in Australia. Women are far more likely to be attacked or killed by a partner than a stranger in the street; current statistics indicate about one in four women will experience physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner in her lifetime, while one woman is killed by her partner or former partner every week in Australia. Which is perhaps why these stories have such an impact on us – they serve to remind us that, in fact, nowhere is safe. Everywhere we move about the world, we women are at risk simply because we are women.
Soon after Dixon’s body was found, Victoria Police officers made comments making it clear they believed it’s women’s responsibility to take care of themselves.
“Just make sure you have situational awareness,” said Local Superintendent David Clayton. “If you’ve got a mobile phone, carry it.”
The comments caused an uproar online, as tone-deaf, paternalistic proclamations often do, about what women’s true responsibilities are when it comes to our own personal safety. What does the word “safety” even mean when the very social system in which we operate is designed by men to harm us?
Superintendent Clayton’s words recall those spoken just a few years ago by another Victoria Police detective, after another murder of another young woman in another park in Melbourne.
Schoolgirl Masa Vukotic was walking through Koonung Creek Linear Reserve in March 2015, listening to music with headphones, when she was stabbed to death close to her Doncaster home. In the ensuing panic, Detective Inspector Mick Hughes told reporters, “I suggest people, particularly females, they shouldn’t be alone in parks.”
None of this is real, of course. There is no real way we women can protect ourselves against men’s violent attacks -- in the streets or in our homes. We have no “responsibility” to take care of ourselves because safety is an illusion. Whether we’re drunk or sober, walking alone or together, in the street or through a park, we are always at risk.
In 2012, in 2015, in 2018, the murder of a young woman who should be able to make it home safely is just as heartbreaking. And the cycle of absurd, paternalistic discourse that comes after, about how women should protect themselves, should avoid walking alone, is always the same -- and it’s infuriating every time.
If we cannot protect ourselves from violence, if it surrounds us, woven through the fabric of our very social structure, there has to be another way to break the cycle. And that way is anger.
So be angry for Eurydice Dixon, who has died this week and who shouldn’t have. And be fucking furious that for us women, the safety to walk home alone is still an illusion. Because, if we are ever truly going to be free and liberated in this world, that is just unacceptable.