Travelling alone isn't women's biggest safety risk

Date

Clementine Ford

Local residents congregate near where Masa Vukotic was killed.

Local residents congregate near where Masa Vukotic was killed. Photo: Meredith O'Shea

On Tuesday evening at around 6:50pm, a man approached and stabbed to death Masa Vukotic while she was out walking in the Koonung Creek Linear Reserve. The 17- year-old Canturbury Secondary School student was found shortly after the attack at the base of a footbridge in the reserve. A man has since surrendered himself to police in connection with the murder.

But despite the fact that the fault for this alleged murder remains with the perpetrator alone, the tendency for public discussion to muse on the behaviour of victims has reared its ugly head once more. In an interview with ABC radio yesterday, Detective Inspector Mick Hughes advised people - "particularly females" - to avoid being alone in parks because of a need to "remain vigilant". Inspector Hughes later qualified this statement by claiming he meant for women (sorry, "females") to walk together, evidently as a means of safeguarding themselves against the violent actions of dangerous men. He said, "But if you're by yourself you need to be aware of your circumstances and take reasonable precautions. I think it's a travesty that we have to do that, we should be able to walk anywhere at any time, but reality says that we can't."

I would tell you how insulting it is to be reminded of what "reality" is by a male authority figure, but if you're a woman reading this then you're probably already pounding your head in frustration. The fact is, Vukotic walked this route regularly and Tuesday night was no different. Indeed, all over the country, women walk and run and cycle through parks and manage to emerge unscathed from the experience. Nor are the "reasonable precautions" Inspector Hughes refers to mysteries to us - they are the boring, unconsciously held ticks and twitches that underpin how we have learned to navigate our way through a world that considers our autonomy and rights as human beings to be an unnecessary afterthought.

Masa Vukotic.

Masa Vukotic. Photo: Facebook

Much as family recipes are passed down through generations, so too are the tools women have crafted to defend themselves in a hostile environment. We know how to carry our keys in such a way that they might function as a weapon while walking to our cars or front doors. We indulge in real or fake conversations on our phone in the hopes that the flimsy connection might ward off potential predators. Some of us smoke, having once heard that the sight of it reduces the projected impression of vulnerability.

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Women do these things, and still we are attacked, beaten, raped. Murdered.

What further precautions must we take? Perhaps we could fuse girls together when they become old enough to venture outside by themselves, ensuring they're always 'in company' and thus never able to succumb to the stupidity of imagining they might be entitled to spend a single moment just existing without worrying about how others might respond to that. Maybe we should pass a law that says women can only travel outside the home when accompanied by a male relative. Would it make sense to just accept defeat from the outset, and ban women from leaving their homes altogether?

But then, that doesn't work either. Because for the majority of girls and women, the biggest risk to their safety lies inside these supposed sanctuaries. For these women, the protective shield of a four walled home with locks on its doors isn't a safe harbour for them but for their attackers. Does it matter less when it happens behind closed curtains, between people who have developed some kind of intimacy? Or does it just make it easier for the outside world to ignore it?

I think we all know the answer to that.

No, despite all this hand-wringing and concerned instruction, women are very well-versed in the things that pose a risk to our safety. Or rather, the one thing that poses the biggest risk.

Men.

This is the actual reality of the world that we live in, but apparently we're not allowed to talk about it because it's unfair and cruel and misandrist and mean. Don't we know that the MAJORITY of men are good and decent people? How DARE we besmirch their names and reputations by discussing the demonstrable, evidence supported problem of male violence and its protracted, deliberate impact on women!

Instead, we must behave as if these 'risks' are unknown and unconnected - as if it is parks or dark streets or alleyways themselves that are killing women, as if danger simply falls out of the sky and snuffs out their lives, like a cartoon anvil or a piano or a house brought down in a tornado to land on a witch trespassing on land that was never hers to begin with.

For too long, women have been sold the lie that the world does not really belong to us. That we are merely guests, here on the provisional invitation of men who expect us to behave ourselves, speak when we're spoken to and provide all the comforts and charm of a deferential dinner companion indebted somehow to the goodwill of the host. Our time as the docile, malleable maidens responsible for absorbing the impact of men's choices ends right now.

Because here's some "reality" for Inspector Hughes, and anyone inclined to agree with his advice, however well intentioned it might have been. Until we substantially address the toxicity of patriarchy, women will always be subjected to the aggression and hostility of men who are left to their own devices by a society unwilling to look at those patterns of male behaviour which lead to gendered violence. The repetition of history has demonstrated that if we want to decrease the risk of gendered violence used against women, we won't do it by continuing to challenge and police women's behaviour.

We can do it simply by changing men's. That's the reality. So let's get started.