I attended the vigil for Courtney Herron in Geelong on May 31. There were 20 or so people in Johnstone Park mourning the loss of yet another young woman in a public place in Melbourne.
Cortney was the fourth young woman to be killed in the past year, including the June 2018 rape and murder of comedian Eurydice Dixon, 22, at Princes Park.
Courtney was only 24 years old and homeless. She left a party with her alleged killer, a 27-year-old also homeless man, who bashed her to death.
The tragedy is shocking in so many ways. But the worst is that Courtney’s death continues the seemingly endless killings of women by people they know. One in three Australian women have experienced physical violence, the vast majority at the hands of men they know and more than one woman is killed by a partner or former partner, usually a man, every week.
The women are not killed because they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time or because the killer was drunk, had mental health or substance abuse issues. They are killed because the inequality of women in this society makes them more vulnerable than men to economic, psychological, emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
We live in a society where women are still paid less, do more unpaid work and are less valued for their social contribution than men. This is what underpins gendered violence.
Yet there were other issues at play with Courtney’s death. She was homeless and had experienced mental health and substance abuse issues. Indeed, so had her alleged killer, which is no excuse, but these issues do raise questions about the sort of support the most vulnerable people in our society should expect from the state.
At the Geelong vigil, one young social worker was troubled by her experience with this particular case. She had been working at a special accommodation facility a year ago, where the alleged killer had been staying. She had reported some very disturbing behaviour he had exhibited then, but nothing was done. She felt her own contribution had been ineffective and was questioning whether frontline workers such as herself, could ever play anything but a Band-Aid role.
Everyone at the vigil assured the woman that she had done the best she could as an individual and should not feel guilty.
But it struck me that her experience points to exactly what is wrong. Where is the funding to support the mentally ill? Why are there only isolated, infrequent services where workers are so overloaded and ignored and forced to bear the brunt of this inadequacy?
We know there is a crisis in the lack of public housing, which all too often keeps vulnerable women at home with their perpetrators, and we know homelessness is on the rise.
More services on their own may not have saved Courtney’s life. She may have been killed in her own home as so many family violence victims are. But surely she had a right to expect more support?
How can violence against women be addressed without these support services? Even Courtney’s school friend, Jessica Bateman told the Today show: “I think it’s a combination of violence against women and homelessness, definitely.”
State and federal governments do not fund any of these services adequately. Victoria concluded a Royal Commission into Family Violence in 2016 and has implemented 120 of the 227 recommendations, yet it has a woeful track record on public housing.
We at Green Left Weekly will continue to campaign for equal rights for women and for freedom from violence. We will continue to argue for huge increases in public housing, increased funding for mental health services and indeed for all the services that support the rights of the most vulnerable in this society. But we need your help if we are to continue to tell the stories that strengthen these campaigns.
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