LIKE MANY OTHER people, Jill Meagher’s tragic story deeply saddened me this week. Her story is tragic beyond belief – a beautiful young woman attacked and murdered in her prime, metres from her front door. I prayed she would be found alive, I cried when I heard the news she was found. I pray for her now – that she didn’t suffer much pain, that she passed quickly and that she is now at peace and her family have the strength to cope with her loss.
I imagine, I hope, she had no reason to ever believe such horrendous things could happen her. Her story is so familiar to me too; I feel like I could have known her. Her life mirrors my own and that of my friends in so many ways. We are of similar age, similar careers, similar taken-for-granted freedoms. Like many Irish people of our generation I lived in Melbourne for a time and socialised in the Brunswick area. She emigrated to Australia with her husband some years ago; so did my best friend, so did my sister.
So many times I and my friends have taken a chance to walk home after a night out. Or got a taxi or bus and walked a short solitary walk to our homes, giddy as a goat. Luck of the draw? It could have been any one of us.
Recently I was on a nightlink bus home from the city centre – I had been out with friends and had fallen asleep on the hour-long journey home. I woke up to a man pulling me off my seat and attempting to drag me to the door. I am reasonably strong, yet he pulled me right off my seat into the air. I was overpowered. I got my bearings and pushed back, but he still overpowered me, telling the bus driver he knew me well and to ignore my struggle. Two men sitting at the back of the bus got up and pushed the guy away. They walked me home right to my door and waited outside for me to lock the door from the inside before they left. Decent, decent people. I was lucky.
I never made a police report because I was embarrassed at my being asleep on a nightlink. I had a lot on my mind and, being honest, I just wanted to forget about it; I was fine after all. But Jill’s story has changed my mind. I can’t risk that happening to someone else. The potential of him doing it again – successfully this time – is too much of a threat to other women. I will report it now in memory of Jill.
When I read the news of Jill’s death I was at a packed gig. My heart fell. I had really hoped there was some other explanation. Or at the very least she would be found alive. I felt sick and I looked around me, never had groups of men looked so threatening, and I wondered – How do you know?
You don’t. People who can commit such crime walk among us every day. Statistics show that we are much more likely to be abused by someone we know. A statistic however that is meaningless to Jill and her beloved family at this moment in time.
Can some things come out of this awful tragedy in Jill’s memory? I didn’t know the woman but she seemed like the sort of person who would not want her tragic death to be in vain. Instead of the usual victim blaming – don’t-get-drunk-and-walk-on-your-own stuff – can we look at the perpetrators of these acts? Why we have to fear; who we have to fear.
Please stop the madness of concentrating on what potential victims can do. To accept the brutal rape and murder of a perfectly innocent woman as a consequence of her decision that night of what route to take home is preposterous. She was attacked because somebody attacked her. Let’s keep the focus on the actual crime. Yes, Jill could have walked home a different route or got a lift home and the fact that that decision may have led her into the path of the perpetrator is tragically eternal. But had Jill not been there, the perpetrator still was – prowling the streets, looking for something, someone. There most likely would have been another girl, another family, a different tragedy.
Of course we have to keep ourselves as safe as possible. However, we also have a right to live without fear too. It’s not right that we have to plan our routes to avoid quiet areas in case mad men attack. We need to look at why we somehow accept ‘mad men attacking’ as an accepted reality. Can we look at why these people attack and try to stop THAT?
There are three Ps every society needs against these form of crimes – prevention; protection and prosecution. This means we need more education, prevention programmes, perpetrator programmes, better legal remedies, awareness. We need to stop these attacks happening.
If everything that could be done was being done in this regard then that would be something. But it’s not. And falling into some form of casual tolerance – ‘Oh well, life is just like that, these things happen’ – helps no one and is just apologising for crime on a disturbing collective level.
It’s not right and it’s not fair that half of the world’s population can’t be as free as the other half. It’s obviously not fair to women. However, it’s also an injustice to the vast majority of men who would never ever harm a woman. Men like the two who helped me; who have intervened at crucial times and possibly saved lives, as well as risked their own in the process.
Violence against women is not a women’s issue, it is a human issue and it affects us all. However, I believe the impact of fear from Jill’s story is something that, for the most part, only women fully understand. The one chilling thought we all share – it could have been me.
RIP Jill Meagher.
Paula McGovern is a policy and communications officer with Sonas Housing Association.