Safety for Girls and Women


This year, I have seen many glorious, smiling faces beaming at me from news sites. Young girls and women with children and careers, friends, family and pets. I have memorized the names underneath their pictures. They were killed strolling home from work or walking their dog on a beach. They were killed at a shopping centre and near their sleeping baby. I didn’t even get to fifteen before being exposed to male violence. I live with the consequences of having being treated as a thing, rather than an autonomous being, with the right to liberty. I was once asked on ABC National radio how I cope with having a girl of my own. I said it was a daily battle to not be a nervous wreck when she is out of my sight. I also said that I didn’t want what had happened to me to taint her future, and so I had to be brave every day of her life. I give her little pieces of freedom as she grows.

This year has seen me fret further. This graph presents the reasons why I am furious.

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We attended self-defence classes for mothers and daughters when she was six. They were run by a former homicide detective. My daughter knows where to scratch and kick for maximum effect, and to call out ‘fire!’ if she is scared, as people apparently look to see what is happening. I hated that my little girl had to be taught to be alert and aware of her surroundings, and I hate that it wasn’t enough for the women and girls I have grieved this year. Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I was regularly approached on the street by creeps. I have been harangued, denigrated and worse. Australia is in a deep crises and we need funding, now. Women stay with dangerous men because Centrelink makes it so difficult to fund an escape. There is a lack of refuges and assistance at every level. I know, as some of these women have been my friends, whom have died.

Our whole culture needs to change. We need to call out sexism when we hear it and see it. We need to stand together, women and men, to end this scourge. It has nothing to do with the environment a woman is in, nor what she wears. This is about power, and seeing girls and women as lesser than they. I have friends who have come from places where they tell me they were told never to stop at a red light. They were advised to floor it, to avoid car jackings, rape and murder.

I have done my bit to keep my girl safe. She is a confident young woman, who knows self-defence. I have tried my best to instil in her that she can do anything that she wants in life. I have made my scars my own, and not transferred them to her. Is it enough? How can it be, when there are some men who still hate women; have this unadulterated rage against them. The time for action was a century ago. We have to catch up, and change everything we have known. I believe intent is everything with alcohol. We can enjoy a glass of wine over dinner, or use it as a crutch to amplify our anger. I have known men who take drowning their sorrows to be their creed, effectively making them a danger to all who love them. Cars become a metal prison in which to terrify their families when they are angry. Bills don’t get paid when one partner sees all the money as being theirs to dish out as they please and when they want. It is insidious, and affects whole communities. It is our job to declare that we won’t stand for it. It means having hard conversations when somebody is behaving badly.

I want my daughter to be able to go to the shops, catch a train and walk along a beach, without fear. I demand that she and her contemporaries are able to enjoy simple pleasures. I want her to be able to turn down a boy when he asks her out, without fearing retribution. Can we please be the generation that states in voices that roar in unison, ‘This stops here!?’

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Eurydice, Safety and Heroes found Lacking


This past week, a 22 year old comedienne of extraordinary talent, was brutally murdered on her way home from a gig in Melbourne. Her name was Eurydice Dixon. We cried and grieved for a woman most of us had never met nor had the privilege to see perform. We mourned her and we realized that her death holds a mirror to society and our perceived safety. Every woman I know looks behind when they hear footsteps quickening as they walk. We keep our keys in our hands in case they need to be used as a weapon in carparks and when nearing home. We scan our surroundings and check in with friends after they leave our presence or we theirs. We tend to sit in the back of an Uber or taxi, and are hyper-vigilant at all times. Eurydice certainly was vigilant, and it still wasn’t enough, because the onus was on her accused to be a decent human being and not destroy her young life. We know what she was doing out at night; walking home from her work. Nobody has asked what the hell he was doing out.

Last weekend, I opened a Sydney paper and my eyes cast to a front page story. It detailed the abuse two sisters suffered at the hands of several high-profile visitors to her parent’s home in the 70’s. The parents happened to be well-known writers. I realized that I knew one of the men mentioned in the story, and immediately wanted to vomit. He is now deceased, but was one of Australia’s foremost pop artists amongst other titles. I knew him to be quiet and unassuming, and in his later years, professed a religious leaning. I had gone to his home in the Eastern Suburbs countless times, and had numerous conversations with this fellow. I never got the ‘creep vibe’ which women count on to assist in discerning who is to be feared and who isn’t. I recall on one occasion I asked him if he would consider donating some of his art for a charity auction I was involved in. The next day a courier came with signed shirts, prints and posters. I was touched by his generosity. I never saw the lecherous side to his character, but I have no doubt it existed. Repulsed, I gathered the books I had in my library by the girl’s parents. I also gathered up the biography and prints I had from the artist. I wanted nothing to do with either their art nor them, in any capacity.

Looking back I believe that I was spared hell from this artist for the fact that I had already been through hell. My body was damaged and scarred, and I had lost my youthful naiveté by the time we met. We were also always within crowds of people at art openings and parties. I had prided myself on being able to spot a predator at ten paces, and yet in the past few years, a GP I had seen was incarcerated for rape, and I heard that others from my past had been accused of such horror. The link between them was that they all looked normal. They were all educated, charming and seemingly decent. Somehow, it makes the horror worse. They were able to have access to young people, unabated. To be honest, it turns my perceptions on whom is to be trusted upside down and inside out. I feel pressure on a daily basis to keep my daughter safe, whilst she craves liberty of movement the older she gets.

I recall when I was a little girl and would play in the park around the corner, leading onto a dead-end street. There was a vacant block next to the park, overgrown with weeds. I saw a man hiding within the tall grass and was informed by a friend that he had called out to her, beckoning her to come over. I saw him watching me, feeling his gaze before I saw his eyes. I took it upon myself to knock on every door on the street and notify the residence that there was a bad person about. The police were called and it was found that he was a sex offender, with a long history. I didn’t think for one moment that it would have been my fault if anything had happened to me. I was simply at the park for the purpose of playing with friends. As we grow, we are taught that it is up to us to be vigilant, to not take public transport nor walk at night. We must be alert and alarmed at all times. Too bad if we are without a car or need to be out for work or any other reason. The onus goes from the creep in the long grass watching us to the fault of a woman walking by with a purpose.

We start to doubt our own impressions of situations and people as we grow. We worry about making a fuss, about being impolite to the stranger attempting to strike up a conversation, for instance. You know what, girls and boys and grownups have the right to move through their lives and our streets unabated. Eurydice had the right to safely walk home from her gig. The blame is entirely with her killer. The blame lies with the parents of the girl’s whom they didn’t protect in their family home. The blame is with the artist whom I had once admired. I now can’t even bear looking at his face nor hearing his name. The blame is with the creep watching the kids from the long grass, not with the kids playing in the park. I have gathered up the artist and writer’s works; people whom I once looked up to, and have thrown them in the recycling. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the paper came back as cardboard, holding cartons of inspired work by decent men and women?

Manchester


My daughter has been my companion to many concerts. Some operatic, some classical, some pop and some rock. The squeals of joy echo through my home when I inform her that we have tickets to a visiting performer. She carefully selects what she is going to wear, and we make plans to have dinner somewhere nice beforehand. Watching her dance and gaze at the performer in awe is all the reward I need. We went to Sport for Jove’s rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, shortly after I heard the dreadful, unfathomable news about the terrorist attack at Manchester Stadium. I looked around at all the young people laughing and delighting in the performance, and was struck cold by the thought that it could have been us. It could have been us at any performance we had attended. Afterward, my daughter chatted excitedly about the play, and how much she had enjoyed it, and we stopped at a shopping centre in the heart of Sydney for lunch. A policeman with an Irish brogue came up to us, and started chatting. It felt as though three humans were connecting, trying to make sense of the evil which had just occurred. He smiled at my daughter, and I knew that he was thanking his stars that it hadn’t been a Sydney concert. It could have been.

A friend posted a warning last night that a van had been spotted next to our local park, with a fellow lingering long enough to cause suspicion. I almost despaired. Should we now add concerts to the long list of things we need to be wary of? Are backpacks set to become suspicious, not just when left alone on public transport, but also when securely strapped to someone’s back? Parents could be rendered nervous wrecks, incapable of venturing out with their offspring, let alone allowing them to venture out by themselves. I must admit, my immediate desire was to bustle my daughter home, where she is safe. However, this is no way to live. Once upon a time, I was a hermit, a bad man stalking me. I barely left my room in three years as a teen. I remember feeling angry that my life had been reduced to an isolation cell, whilst he was roaming free.

I eventually stepped out by myself, and what a revelation it was! I determined never to close the door and put myself into solitary confinement again. I won’t do that to my daughter either. Did you know that amongst all the horror, several homeless men (who were sleeping rough near the arena), ran to help? They comforted children, stemmed blood loss and helped get people to safety. What I will say to my child, is always look for the helpers… There is always helpers. We will still attend concerts, but sadly our innocence has gone.