The news has been overwhelmed this past week by the Melbourne rape and murder of Jill Meagher, an Irish-born ABC Radio employee. Every television report, every radio bulletin, every online news site has been filled with regular updates on the latest in the case.
She had left her local bar after drinks with friends, planning to walk the few blocks home, alone. She never made it. Instead, she was raped and dumped, unceremoniously, in a shallow grave on the outskirts of the city. A life ended so suddenly, and stupidly.
Over the long weekend hundreds of tributes have been laid at both the place where her body was found and the street on which she was last seen, via CCTV footage. Yesterday, approximately 30,000 people from throughout Melbourne, and around the nation, as well as the globe, marched along the street she would have walked, to pay their respects.
I wanted to talk about this, not just because the case itself has touched me, but because the resulting thought-process from so many has me baffled. The Sunday Mail (Queensland’s most popular weekend read) printed these articles, along with a message pleading with women to protect each other, and never walk alone. The nightly news has been filled with grabs of women saying it has changed their views on safety.
This frustrates me. Maybe it’s because I’m in the throes of reading Caitlin Moran’s How To Be a Woman, or simply because I don’t like playing the victim, but I’m pissed off.
Why shouldn’t I be able to walk home alone at midnight? Why can’t I simply trust that I won’t get raped, mugged, bashed, or murdered? Why do I have to feel unsafe crossing a dark car park just because I’m a female? I know the world (unfortunately) isn’t perfect—there are some twisted people out there. There are men who rape women (and women who rape men), paedophiles, murderers, sociopaths, etc. But, is wrapping women in cotton wool really the answer?
I’m not here to deny that women have a responsibility to be sensible—take the well-lit footpath instead of the dark alley, be aware of what’s happening around you, have a plan of attack in case you’re attacked. But should we, as women, really need to rely on having somebody with us when outside after-dark? For some it’s not logical—if you work a night job, or can’t find a well-lit park close to your venue. And for all it’s simply not fair—nobody should have to constantly expect and plan for the worst.
Reclaim the Night, also known as Take Back the Night, supports the rights of women to walk, alone, without fear of attack. It is an annual walk, held in many capital cities around the world, which brings together women to walk together in a symbolic gesture of taking back their freedom—their ability to feel safe at night by themselves.
Reclaiming the night is what we, as women, should be doing—not running from the shadows. We need to take a stand for our own freedom. We need to support our combined worth and right to both feel and be safe in any situation, at any hour.
Jill Meagher suffered a tragic, horrific, and unfair end to her life. This, I believe. But if Jill’s death is used as a reason for women to cower behind others as we walk, rather than stand tall, then her death is even more tragic. It becomes yet another point at which immoral behaviour takes away women’s own power and freedom. A freedom we have only so recently had and can ill-afford to lose.
This quote from Andrea Dworkin (via Wiki) hits the nail on the head:
“Women are often told to be extra careful and take precautions when going out at night. In some parts of the world, even today, women are not allowed out at night. So when women struggle for freedom, we must start at the beginning by fighting for freedom of movement, which we have not had and do not now have. We must recognize that freedom of movement is a precondition for anything else. It comes before freedom of speech in importance because without it freedom of speech cannot in fact exist.”
How much are you willing to risk to fight for your freedom, ladies?