Sexual Assault, Moral Panic & Jill Meagher.

For the past two weeks it seems as if Jill Meagher has been exclusively in the media. Then, since her funeral last Friday, her name has all but dropped out of the headlines, if not from our collective consciousness.

Her tragic disappearance, rape and death sure played on my mind after some colleagues talked about it not-stop a few days after Jill went missing and transferred their obsession with the case onto me.

As I wrote last week, tragedies like this that are hyped up by the media rarely affect me. Obviously there is something about Jill that has permeated our abovementioned collective consciousness, if the outpouring of grief, support for her family, flowers out the front of the store where some of her last moments were captured on CCTV and the 20,000 Melbournians who turned out to march for peace two weekends ago are any indication.

Jill’s murder was no doubt horrific and it’s heart-warming to see so many everymen affected by a woman they never knew. But since her killer was charged and her body was found and laid to rest, I’ve started to get a bitter taste in my mouth about all the hoopla surrounding Jill’s disappearance and death: what’s so remarkable about this situation that has everyone calling for safety on the streets?

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for safe streets, but I resent the fact that it’s women who are being cautioned not to walk alone at night, to get a taxi or a friend to accompany you home.

Some of this “concern” was directed my way last weekend at a friend’s birthday not far from where Jill lived, partied and was abducted. I was asked by a friend to please not walk alone at night and, as the non-owner of a car who is often without money for a taxi, I responded that I don’t have that luxury. It’s decadent to catch a cab two streets from the train station to my house, and unless that friend is going to offer to chauffeur me around the city, I think I’ll take my chances. It doesn’t come naturally for me to live my life in fear, not to mention the fact that the chances of experiencing a violent crime the likes of which Jill did are extremely rare. My friend is more likely to be involved in a car accident than I am to be attacked while walking home.

Upon further thought, my male housemate, who is out late many nights per week at work, rehearsals for a play, jogging and being social, was also there when my friend expressed her misguided anxiety about my after dark activities yet not a peep was directed his way. For those alarmists who think that any female on the street post-sunset is doomed to the same fate as Jill, please be mindful that according to the Australian Institute of Criminology, non-sexual assault is the most common form of violent crime, more likely to be committed against men than women. Why are women the only ones who are deemed less safe after Jill’s death? And why is it our responsibility not to get attacked? Maybe we should be focussing our concentration on teaching boys (and even then, it’s not just men who rape and women who are raped) not to rape and on a better screening process for criminals who are likely to reoffend, as Jill’s murderer, Adrian Bayley, did.

And another thing: abduction, rape and murder were just as scary and real before Jill made the news as after. In fact, because her killer is now in custody, the streets could actually be deemed safer (no thanks to the legal system who knew of Bayley as a repeat sex- and violent crime-offender but he’s only off the streets now that someone’s dead). That’s part of the reason why the moral outrage this incident has incited rubs me the wrong way: how many abductions, rapes and murders (not so much in Australia for the former and latter, but definitely so for the second crime) happen on a daily basis that we don’t hear a peep about? Or if we do, it’s only after it’s too late. All of the horrible things that happened to Jill were in existence before she experienced them. What’s so unique about her case?

I think it’s because she’s the “perfect victim”, if you will. Young; beautiful; white; middle-class; a migrant. If Jill had’ve turned up alive after her sexual assault, I think we would have heard the whispers of victim-blaming that circulated in the early days of her disappearance become a lot louder. She was drunk. She was out too late. Her shoes were too high. What was she wearing? Why did she talk to/go with her attacker? Don’t you think it’s weird her husband wasn’t with her? (This is a direct quote I heard from several people specualting about her disappearance.) Why didn’t she insist someone walk her to her apartment only a couple of blocks away along a route she took frequently? But because Jill did meet a fatal end, she’s become a martyr for making our streets a safer place as opposed to just another slut who was asking for it.

A blog post about Jill and the subsequent Sydney Road peace march and Reclaim the Night rally still to come talked about how SlutWalk is a radical feminist phenomenon that’s got its heart in the right place in theory, but that the Jill rallies are much more palatable. These sentiments are echoed in some of the comments on the post, that SlutWalk isn’t right for them but marching for Jill is. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion (as is the catch cry of my concerned friend. Indeed, you are entitled to feel scared on the street at night if you so desire just as I am not to be.), but I don’t understand how taking a stand against victim-blaming, slut-shaming and rape culture isn’t “right for you”. But somehow a march to honour the memory of a woman we’ve only come to know in the tragic circumstances surrounding her death, without the clear objectives that SlutWalk, marriage equality marches and the banning of live exports rally over the weekend have. Did 20,000 people turn up to those?

In no way am I being a rape-apologist or trying to suggest that rape isn’t an increasing problem, both in practice and in our culture. I myself, friends, family, colleagues and people I’ve only read about have all experienced intimidation and harassment, if not something more sinister, on the streets and within circles we thought of as safe. But perhaps instead of using Jill Meagher as the scapegoat who warns women to keep themselves locked away in their homes after sundown or, at the very least, be clothed in shapeless, unrevealing garb with a chaperone present at all times, we should be focussing on the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment in society, perpetrated not only by strangers, but more likely by those close to us as well, and our reluctance to deal with its true cause and prevention unless it happens to the right kind of person woman and only after the fact.

Related: To Live & Die in Brunswick: Reflections on Jill Meagher.

Elsewhere: [Australian Institute of Criminology] Trends in Violent Crime.

[Dangers Untold & Hardships Unnumbered] Jill Meagher, SlutWalk & Reclaim the Night Sydney Road.

[unWinona] I Debated Whether Or Not to Share This Story.

Image via SBS.

7 thoughts on “Sexual Assault, Moral Panic & Jill Meagher.

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. « The Early Bird Catches the Worm

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