On January 20, thousands of women and men marched through Australian capital cities calling for gender equality and an end to violence against women. More than 3000 people gathered in Sydney’s Hyde Park, where women’s rights activists, domestic violence survivors and Indigenous leaders spoke. Many of the demonstrators carried signs mentioning the murder of Aiia Maasarwe, a 21-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel.
On January 16, 2019, Maasarwe was found dead in the Melbourne suburb of Bundoora behind bushes next to the Polaris Shopping Centre carpark.
Two days later, 20-year-old Codey Herrmann was arrested and charged with her rape and murder. The incident had shocking similarities with the killing of Eurydice Dixon, an aspiring comedian who was raped and murdered in Melbourne in 2018 while walking home from a gig.
In an article published on News.com.au, Phoebe Loomes has said that safety for women in Australia is “nothing but an illusion”.
Are women safe in Australia?
When horrific crimes against women occur in Australia, it’s common to see public figures suggest well-meaning “safety tips” for women such as “situational awareness” and staying out of certain areas.
When teenager Masa Vukotic was killed in a park near her home in 2015, Homicide squad chief Detective Inspector Mick Hughes said “"I suggest to people, particularly females, they shouldn't be alone in parks.”
Yet Aiia Maasarwe was less than a kilometre from her home. She had been accompanied for most of the night by friends at a comedy show, caught a tram back to her suburb and was Facetiming her sister when she was attacked.
And what about the women who are attacked in their own homes? Six women are killed an hour by people they know, and more than half of all women killed in 2017 died at the hands of a partner or relative.
As columnist Clementine Ford pointed out, “It was not a lack of ‘situational awareness’ that ended the life of Eurydice Dixon - it was a person who made a conscious choice to exercise extreme violence against her”.
How can women stay safe?
Everyone has the right to feel safe walking the streets, and victims should not be blamed for a perpetrator’s decision to act out in a violent manner or in extreme cases take somebody’s life.
Phoebe Loomes says being on the phone to a loved one, a friend or a partner when you feel unsafe is a common tactic that both women and men use.
Although it doesn’t guarantee absolute safety, being on the phone serves two functions: it makes you look unapproachable and lets your would-be attacker know that somebody else is likely aware of your whereabouts.
Not-For-Profit organisation Our Watch has an extensive list of actions men can take in order to help decrease the risk of violence against women and their children: https://www.ourwatch.org.au/Preventing-Violence/Men.
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Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: February 1, 2019.