I’m not one given over to easy emotions. But like so many people, what has happened to Jill Meagher has reduced me to tears. Working in the media is a double-edged sword; on the one hand you deal with death and assault and terrible things sometimes with levity, sometimes just as a job. As a thing you do. Because you have to and there is so much of it. Other times you become overwhelmed by it. While I have not, by any means, had to endure the things my colleagues have had to do, there are a few moments in my career where I have had to write things and attend funerals and done stuff and said to myself “don’t break down, don’t break down, don’t break down” and I’ve kept it to myself and I’ve done my job and I’ve gotten home via the bottle shop and I’ve had a goddamn motherfucking cry.
What has happened to Jill is so unspeakably horrifically awful that perhaps we need new words for it. It’s not something new, but in this age of social media, her disappearance has affected more people than would have been imaginable.
Especially for us, women of Jill’s age, who have done what she did every other weekend of our adult lives, it’s too close to home. It is us who refused an escort home from a friend. It is us who knew no Taxi driver will take us that short distance home because it’s not worth their while (and here in WA, we women are told not to take taxis alone because of the big spate of taxi driver-related sexual assaults on women, so no-win situation).
I cannot stop saying how incredibly angry I am every time a woman is raped and the police issue their standard warning about “being careful”. If we were really serious about ‘being careful’ and ‘aware of our surroundings’ (umm, hang on, we get hollered at and touched up and sexualised and hit on in a weird way all the Fucking Time) we would not: go jogging during the day, especially with an ipod and headphones, get drunk Ever, wear anything short/revealing/nice Ever, Leave the Motherfucking House, be female, take drugs, be at home alone, walk anywhere without a male escort, talk to or acknowledge strangers etc etc. Are you Fucking Guys Getting It Yet? Not only are we not supposed to do all the above things, but we are already scared as All Hell.
Yes, violence by and to young men is SHIT. But until you have lived your entire lives, men, waiting for the other shoe to drop, being sexually harassed at work, being stalked, being the butt of sexual and univited comments, being the subject of whistling and cat-calls when you are 12 years old and wearing a tracksuit, being scared on the street in the Middle of the Fucking Day let alone at night, being sexually assaulted by men you know and trust and by complete strangers whom you’ve never seen or met in your life, until you have lived with a half-bit of fear in your brain all the goddamn time, then you can say men who say “what about us?”.
Until you analyse how often you feel fear as a woman, or how often you’ve been a victim of unwanted advances or abuse, you tend to take it for granted. Well now is the time to stop. What happened to Jill is extreme. It is horrific. It makes so many of us weep – and I don’t say that lightly. What she suffered before she died is the stuff of nightmares. I did not know her personally, but I know people who did. My heart fucking bleeds for those who loved her, because the hurt is unimaginable.
But we all take it for granted. We walk 10 mins to our home because we don’t want to put our male friends out and we’ve done this route a million times. Because we don’t want to feel scared and we can’t get a taxi and even if we did (with friends, as the police in WA advise although we live in Totally Different Directions you fucking idiots and that would never work) we’d probably get raped and it would be our Own Fault.
So how can we be safe? Yes, we’re (and I mean ALL people) never safe from psychopaths, but telling us (women) to be more safe means effectively to never leave the house.
No, everyone’s safety is everyone’s business. There are campaigns to ” Stop the violence” of one-punch assaults. New laws. And yet men who kill their partners get a few years. Men who download or indulge in abusing children get suspended sentences.
In the major democracies – USA, UK, AUS, the successful prosecution rate for rape and sexual assault is 5% FIVE PER CENT. It is not only the most under-reported crime, but it is the least likely to a) make it to prosecution and b) to end in a successful case. PLUS, most rapists get suspended sentences. Because for some reason rape and sexual assault isn’t treated as believable, prosecutable, or important. No one helped me when it happened to me. The men went along doing their thing of being more hurt and offended or confused than me. That was about 15 years ago. I believe things have moved on since then. I know I have. But I can’t help thinking about that night and the day a few years before, at the hands of a man who would go on to drug and rape a friend of mine.
I do not say this to be shocking or confessional, but to emphasise the point that ONE IN THREE WOMEN will be sexually assaulted at least ONCE in their lives.
I am devastated by Jill Meagher’s death and what happened to her. But I can only hope that these terrible events will help other women who have been victims of sexual assault, rape, stalking, unwanted attention to tell police. I can only hope that this means Police will take it seriously. I can only hope the courts will take more seriously the verdict of rape and/or sexual assault and determine sentences commensurate to the crime.
I will take the guilt of doing nothing about reporting my sexual assaults to the end of my days. They were more than 14 years ago and I could hardly even tell the authorities their names or what they looked like. Perhaps my brain has shut them out. In any case, from now on, we can all do something about it. It may be nothing, we may get ignored or told we are being hysterical, but we all should try, at the very least. I will. I hope you will too.
Jill Meagher, I hope you rest in peace. Your life and death affected so many, but none more than the people who knew and loved you the most. The way you lived was so much more than the way you died, but I hope you have found peace in the darkness and through the love those who knew you had for you. I also hope we can all become better as a society through you. You’re not a martyr, you’re a person. But I can only hope that despite your tragic, insensible death, that we might all be better. Get better. Live better. RIP Jill, truly.