December 2012

Violence against women is unacceptable

What was it about Jill Meagher that touched so many of us? The outpouring of emotion was genuine and intense. But why don’t we see similar displays for all female victims of violence, asks Shannon Smith.

BY Shannon Smith

What was it about Jill Meagher that touched so many of us right here in Melbourne, across state borders and across the globe in her home country of Ireland? The outpouring of emotion was genuine and intense. But why don’t we see similar displays for all female victims of violence? I find it interesting that I don’t even need to elaborate on the facts of the case; simply saying ‘Jill Meagher’ is enough for everyone to know exactly who and what I’m referring to.

But what if I said “Andrea Pickett”? Or “Saori Jones”? Or “Sargun Ragi”? Do these names mean anything to you? These women were also brutally murdered by a man. But the difference is, while Jill Meagher was brutally murdered by a stranger, these women were brutally murdered by a man they loved, and who they thought loved them. These women were brutally murdered by their husbands. Yes, they received media coverage but not to the extent that Jill did. They didn’t have the city, the state, the country tuned in, absorbing every twist and turn of their final volatile moments on earth. Why?

In March 2008, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stated that “violence against women and girls continues unabated in every continent, country and culture. It takes a devastating toll on women’s lives, on their families, and on society as a whole. Most societies prohibit such violence – yet the reality is that too often, it is covered up or tacitly condoned”. I am yet to understand fully why the Jill Meagher case resonated so strongly with Melbournians, and why the other cases I mentioned above, did not.

According to the report, “A Strategy for the Northern Metropolitan Region of Melbourne 2011-2016” by Women’s Health in the North (WHIN), “whilst violence against women covers a range of behaviours perpetrated against them, existing evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that family violence and sexual assault are the most common forms of violence experienced by women, and this violence is predominantly perpetrated by men who are known to them”.

Over the last year, 60 Australian women have died at the hands of family members, says Radio National’s “The Law Report”. The Victoria Police Crime Statistics for 2010-2011 contain details on crimes reported or detected by Victoria Police for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011. In this period there was a 13.7 per cent increase in reported family violence incidents, with nine homicides, 50 abduction or kidnaps, 125 rapes and 6,366 assaults – up a massive 58.6 per cent from the previous year. Bearing in mind that these incidents are only reporting where an alleged offender has been processed, imagine the actual number of incidents that never get reported.

I spoke to and debated the case of Jill Meagher with friends, colleagues, loved ones, and I spent a lot of time alone contemplating this horrific crime. As a young woman in Melbourne, when I go out at night alone, I take a number of precautions – often without even thinking twice. I park my car under street lights, I walk with my keys in my hand so I don’t have to search through my bag to find them, I avoid eye contact with men I pass by and will often cross to the other side of the road to avoid a group of men. I know I am not alone taking these kinds of precautions. As girls we are trained from a young age to be cautious and wary of situations that might be dangerous – being alone, at night, in a strange place, with someone we don’t know.

But what do we do if we’re not alone, we’re not in a strange place, and we’re with someone we know… yet the situation could be just as dangerous? Family violence occurs behind closed doors and thrives in an environment of secrecy and isolation. Many incidents of family violence are ignored or go unreported because it is deemed a ‘private matter’. But whether a crime is committed on the street, in public, and is captured on CCTV; or whether it is committed behind closed doors in a home environment, the message is still the same. Violence against women, in any form, is unacceptable.

The death of Jill Meagher was undoubtedly a tragedy – one which sent shockwaves through Melbourne. It was a remarkable event in many ways, most notably for its scale, diversity and unprompted display of public grief. But let’s not forget, that, on the flip side of the statistics that tell us women are relatively rarely murdered by strangers, they are harmed by someone they know in almost nine out of ten cases.

Shannon Smith

Shannon Smith is Co-ordinator of The Good Samaritan Inn in Melbourne, which provides crisis accommodation and care for women and children escaping domestic violence and homelessness. Shannon's article was first published in the December 2012 edition of The Inn's newsletter.

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