There’s been a hell of a lot of assaults on women at night in Melbourne making the news lately. Acquaintances I’ve spoken to in passing about the news ask why is such a deluge of assaults happening now? I would argue that they’ve been happening pretty frequently since the beginning of time but they’re only just making the news, more so since the brutal rape and murder of Melbourne woman by way of Ireland, Jill Meagher.
One Facebook status a friend sent me a screenshot of, which I found particularly ignorant, asked why women insist on walking at night in Melbourne. Um, because we’re human beings?! The status came from someone who lives in a small town where everyone has cars and it takes ten minutes to get everywhere. When my friend pointed out the implausibility of the status in the comments, she got the reply that if women must walk at night, to do so in groups.
As a person from said small town who doesn’t have a car and who now lives in the city, I can tell you that suggestions like these are just not viable. Taxis to get from one side of town to the other can cost you hundreds of dollars. Not everyone lives close to public transport and most likely have to walk to and from train stations and bus and tram stops. This is not to mention people who can’t afford taxis and public transport, people who use wheelchairs or other mobility assistance apparatuses (apparati?), the elderly, the homeless, etc.
None of my friends live in my area so it’s not like we can organise a buddy system of pick ups and drop offs. Melbourne is not a town where everyone congregates in one park or on one stretch of shopping mall; many people don’t walk for fun, but for necessity.
Some other helpful hints to protect young women are as follows: don’t walk your dog before or after work (it’s almost the dead of winter in Melbourne and daylight only exists from 8am to 5pm, the hours many people are away from their pets at work); if you must walk in the dark, make sure you have a dog with you; and don’t wear headphones when walking alone. These suggestions are, again, completely out of touch. Most pet-owners have to walk their animals; not everyone has a pet; and while I can acknowledge the argument against loud headphones limiting their use in this tech-obsessed society is pointless. And many women use headphones as armour regardless of whether they’re listening to anything through them. Sometimes I’ll have headphones on on public transport to avoid being spoken to by entitled men who must know what you’re reading or to remain alert in uncertain situations unbeknownst to others. (Someone recriminated me for not being alert whilst wearing headphones because they honked at me on the street but I “didn’t hear them”. Anyone who’s walked whilst also being a woman knows responding to honks on the street is “asking for trouble”, as so many people are wont to accuse us of.)
In the furor surrounding Jill Meagher’s murder and the seemingly random Brunswick and Yarravile attacks, as well as the attack on a schoolgirl in Glenferrie, we’re forgetting that people we know, trust or even live with are the most dangerous to us. Remember in the past few months the influx of intimate partner murders reported in the news?
Because men have perpetrated all of these attacks, maybe we should be telling men who match the description of said assailants to limit their nocturnal movements outside of their homes lest they attack an unassuming woman just going about her daily business. Now wouldn’t that be a controversial idea.