Let Me Tell You About All The Things I Do To Stay Safe (or, Jill Meagher is not a cautionary tale)

My local pub – my favourite place to drink – is really close to my house. It’s so close that, on a clear day, you can see it from my end of the street. Getting from there to here requires crossing a main road, and then walking along streets lined with residential homes on both sides. It’s quiet, and it’s familiar and I walk from here to there and back again ALL the time.

Last weekend, whilst making a trip only barely longer than mine – also from her local bar to her home – 29 year old Brunswick woman Jill Meagher was kidnapped, raped and killed. Early this morning, her remains were discovered in Gisborne, 45 kilometers from where she was last seen on Sydney Rd. The internet exploded today with condolences to her husband, family and friends, and as well as with the usual warnings from armchair concen trolls to young women to “be careful, and take precautions”.

Commenter GIW at 3AW says:

There have been so many incidents of rape, assaults, harrassment and murder but still women don’t get it. You do not venture out on your own in the wee hours of the morning especially after you have been drinking, why is it so hard for that message to sink in.

And there are many other sentiments the same. Be careful girls, don’t walk alone at night, don’t get too drunk, don’t wear high heeled shoes. BE CAREFUL!!!11!!!!1ELEVENTY!

Let me tell you about all the things I do to stay safe, every time I leave my house alone at night. EVERY TIME.

  • I carry my keys in my hand after I have gotten off the tram, because they are sharp, and because it gets me into the house quicker.
  • If I know my partner will be awake, I text him when I have gotten off the tram and he meets me at the front door so I don’t have to unlock it.
  • I cross to the other side of the road if I pass someone who makes me feel uncomfortable.
  • I check my reflection in shop windows to figure out if the man who is walking behind me is getting closer on purpose or if he just happens to be travelling in the same direction as me.
  • I promise my friends (and make them promise me) to text as soon as I get home, so they will know I made it safely.
  • If it’s not too late, sometimes I telephone someone so I am talking to someone as I am walking alone.
  • I routinely text my partner as I am on my way home, letting him know where I am at the various stages of my trip, so he’ll have evidence of where I was if he ever needs it.
  • I avoid making eye-contact with passers-by.
  • If there is a group of men on the street, I will hurry by as inconspicuously as I can.
  • If I am going somewhere on my own, I almost always wear flat shoes, in case I need to make a run for it.
  • I wear sunglasses and headphones on public transport so that people will feel less inclined to strike up a conversation with me.
  • As soon as I get off the tram, however, I remove both sunglasses AND headphones so I can see and hear what is going on around me.
  • If I can see my shadow from street lights, I keep an eye on it to make sure there’s not another person’s shadow too close to me.
  • If I am carrying an umbrella I take it out of my bag and carry it in my hand, so that if I need to use it to hit someone, I can.
  • I walk on the inside of the footpath, nearest the buildings, so that it would be harder for someone to pull me into a car, and so that I don’t have to squeeze through groups of people coming in the opposite direction.
  • Once, I was on a tram home quite late, and a man struck up a conversation with me. He made me feel SO uncomfortable that I got off the tram at a different stop than usual simply so he would not know which tram stop was mine.

I am sure there are a million other things I do that I haven’t listed here, simply because I don’t even notice that I do them. And furthermore, I would wager that many, many other women do these things, or similar things, to feel safer when they go out on their own. All that’s left to do from here is either never leave our houses again unless in the company of a manfriend, or start squarely blaming the perpetrators of these crimes against women instead of pointing the finger at the victims in an attempt to mitigate blame.

I refuse to become a shut-in. I refuse to let fear scare me into not living my life on my terms. I refuse to be blamed for the crimes committed against me and my sisters. What happened to Jill was an awful, terrible, violent crime, but urging young women to “protect themselves” absolves bad men of the blame for the crimes they commit.

Clementine Ford said today on Facebook:

Seriously. Those concern trolls publishing statuses today and tweets reminding women not to be naive about their safety need to be shamed in the public square. Jill Meagher was not raped, murdered and casually discarded because she was silly enough to believe that the street at night didn’t pose some risk for her. Those things happened to her because someone chose to do them – because some people still deeply hate women and believe they are entitled to desecrate another human being for their own satisfaction. We do not solve that problem by ‘reminding’ women that the rules are different for them and urging them not to be so cavalier about their precious, vulnerable selves. We begin to solve it by placing the blame where it is due – on the shoulders of those who think its their right to do these things to another human being. If it’s too unpleasant for people to dwell on that, the urges and actions of people who despise women so much they could do this to them, then they should shut the fuck up and leave the grown ups to talk about it.

FFS. Don’t insult her memory, or that of other women who’ve endured sexual violence, by making the take-home lesson that women need to be more careful. You know what would really help women? Living in a world where their fucking rapes and murders weren’t turned into cautionary tales.

RIP Jill. I will remember you.

She is exactly right. What happened to Jill Meagher is not, and should not be a cautionary tale. It is a tragic, violent crime, perpetrated by a bad man. That man is to blame. Not Jill, not the drinks she had on Friday night, not her high heeled shoes, or the time of night that she decided to walk home.

I wish to extend my love and best wishes to Jill’s husband Tom, and her family and friends both here and abroad. The coming days and weeks will be very trying for them and I hope they will be able to draw strength from one another and from all the good people of Melbourne who banded together this week to help the Victoria Police and the SES find out what happened to Jill.

May eternal light shine upon them all.

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