Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Domestic Violence


A couple of weeks ago, a woman walking home after a night out with friends was abducted, raped and murdered; the abduction took place near the end of my street. It is, of course, the talk of my social circle; it could have been any of us. Like so many women, I go out with friends at least once a week and often walk or cycle home late. I like to be out alone at night, breathing the scents of the evening. Windows flicker with the light of the television, music drifts through the air, and I move quietly through the darkness, dreaming my suburb.

I have some concerns for my safety, of course; I've had too many encounters to be entirely comfortable. Sometimes I wear a hoodie; I'm always in flat shoes; I never use headphones. I avoid groups of men, crossing the road or ducking into shadows if necessary; and I'm not afraid of kneeing a man in the balls if he gets too close – and I've done it, too. But I also refuse to be confined to my home at night. I don't live in Saudi Arabia, and I won't act like I do.

As I get older and greyer, I take fewer precautions; sexual violence is more often directed towards younger women. Yet the woman who was snatched was not much younger than me, and I am shocked. I'm not the only one: hundreds of people have placed bouquets and candles outside the shop where she was last seen, and on the steps of the local church just down the hill. There has been a march to 'reclaim' the street, and informal nightly vigils as people stand and ponder, perhaps to pray.

This is all well and good. The crime was terrible, and it is right to think about how and why it happened; but I also find myself wondering why this very rare crime has led to such an outpouring of public grief when domestic violence is so common. A friend was telling me of a woman she met last year who was murdered by her partner soon afterwards; and of another woman, whose partner attempted to kill her and is now in prison. These crimes also happened in my suburb, but there were no public vigils and flowers in the street.

On a lesser scale, a different friend lives between two households where domestic violence is a regular event; on bad nights, she calls the police then sticks her pillow over her head to block out the screams. This year, three women I know have left verbally abusive and controlling, if not physically violent, relationships; other friends still live in such marriages.

It's not that I live among depraved people. We're all nice, well-educated, thoroughly middle-class women who know our rights; and the men involved are personable and charming – in public at least. Instead, these glimpses illustrate an awful reality: violence against women is all too common.

Feelings of violence against women, whether or not the feelings are physically expressed, are also common. Our society has a sick desire to see women harmed, and sexually promiscuous women, especially prostitutes, slaughtered; you cannot turn on the television any night of the week without seeing at least one murdered woman. It's gussied up as drama with a few twists to keep you guessing, but the fact that women are killed, and often found dismembered or rotting, night after night for the sake of entertainment is hardly benign.

And so I wonder about the flowers and the vigil. Was it really all about the terrible death of one woman walking home late at night? Or was it a safe way for women to express grief over the violence that so many experience in their own homes? Perhaps it is a bit of both.

I also wonder how much has been spent on the flowers; and how much has been donated to women's shelters, or to men's behavioural change programs? Because if we are truly concerned by violence, we will do more than attend vigils and buy flowers for a dead woman. We will also look closely at our society and what simmers beneath the surface. As friends, we will make safe places for others to talk about what is happening at home, and we will defend and support them if they decide to leave; as parents, we will teach our sons to recognise their feelings and to express anger, frustration and shame in healthy and constructive ways; and as citizens, we will direct resources towards the living women and children who experience violence every day, who dread the sounds of His car rolling into the driveway and His key fumbling in the lock, because He is coming home.


  1. Honestly I think people connected because the photo we usually saw of her was captivating. If she'd been fat n plain ther'd have been not much interest. There's also a lot of 'It coulda been me!'. Um, its not about you... Most people can only deal with stuff through the prism of themselves - those 'it could have been me' people need a slap.

    1. Hi Anonymous, I’m not convinced that the public outpouring was about her being pretty. It was too great a response. Young and pretty die all the time, and sometimes at the hands of their partners or families, but there is little or no public response. There was something deeper going on here, and that is what I was trying to explore with this piece.

      I stated at the beginning of the post that it could have been me or any of my friends. I walk these streets alone at night; and I’ve been propositioned or intimidated enough to know that even a severe looking woman with a determined jaw is considered prey. The woman who was taken had awfully bad luck. It wasn’t about being pretty, it was about a predator out hunting for a victim and coming across her. And so of course I, and many others, were very reasonably alarmed.

      I find it interesting that your response to my thought that it could have been me is to suggest I need a bit of sense beaten into me. This whole post is calling for an end to violence against women; your comment only confirms that there are lots of people out there, including, apparently, you, who think points can and should be made by hitting women. Even if I am completely wrong on every point, slapping me, or suggesting I need to be slapped, is hardly the way to change my mind. It only makes me more sure that what I say is right on the mark.

  2. I'd managed to mostly avoid this story, like I avoid all crime stories. Sensationalist, salacious, news readers dwelling breathlessly on each new detail.

    I've absorbed it through the unfortunate osmosis of corner-of-the eye glances at my partner's facebook, or hearing the name on the heavy-rotation teasers for the 'news at seven.'

    I too like walking alone at night, after midnight even. The lucky accident of my gender means that I don't feel that rawness, that sunburnt vulnerability, that you describe. I am, to use your phrase, "entirely comfortable."

    So as the details of this rape and murder slowly oozed into my consciousness, I've said very little. I've kept my "we're incredibly safe in Australia, you know" to myself. Because I'm a man, because of the ubiquitous horror and anger that every women I know was expressing. "Accused," was the most I'd say, "accused murderer."

    But, to uncomfortably agree with the eloquent Mr. Fat-n-plain, appearance matters. Which came first, the press saturation on this story or the flowers and vigils? Was it really something deeper, or just our collective consumption of the soma of the week?

    I believe that your own post points to part of the answer: This was "good tv."

    The handbag, perched evocatively on the edge of the bench. The closed-circuit footage, just the tantalising shot of her legs in stockings and high heels.

    "Did you see her stumble? How drunk was she do you think?"

    The rape wasn't about her being pretty. It was, as you say, probably not about her personally much at all.

    But the response?

    1. Hi Aaron, I agree, we are incredibly safe in Australia, even we women who feel the need to take precautions. And I found it very heartening that the police took it so seriously - in many places, they don't.

      It was, of course, good TV (which I entirely avoided), and well-marketed by her journalistic cohort. So maybe you and Mr fatnugly are right; maybe the response really was just about pretty.

      But if that's the case, then I suggest everyone should throw a rock through their tv and smash their mirror, and start looking a little harder at what makes people precious!

    2. Even if it was just crass marketing that was this moment's genesis, deeper things may arise from it.

      Great post as always, thank you for it.

  3. Yes, a great post. Keep up your thoughtful comments, the world needs more caring thinkers like you.


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