Once it became public that Brunswick woman Jill Meagher was missing, several women began posting on Facebook about scary experiences they’d had in Brunswick.
One of these women was writer and social commentator Catherine Deveny, who mentioned an incident that took place in Brunswick several months ago when a man tried to pull her off her bike.
Deveny responded on Facebook to criticism that she hadn't reported the incident to the police by saying: “People wondering why women like me have not reported 'near misses' don't realise how much unwanted crap women/girls deal with all the time.”
After the tragic discovery of Meagher’s body, Radio 2GB radio hosts Steve Price and Andrew Bolt attacked Deveny as being in some way responsible for Meagher's rape and murder because she did not report her near-attack. “If she [Deveny] had gone to the police in the first place,” said Price, “this might not have happened.”
Deveny responded on Facebook: “I think I have never heard such despicable bullshit in my life ... It's not enough we blame the victim, now it's OK to blame the rapist/murderer's previous victims for his future crimes.”
Deveny published a letter from a woman called Collette, which outlined some of her many experiences of sexual harassment, starting from when she was a little girl.
Collette concluded: “I can’t imagine being taken seriously if I had reported any of these ‘incidences’, and that is part of the problem, it should all be taken seriously because it is all serious and disturbing and heartbreakingly terribly, terribly common.”
The Herald Sun has publish a couple of victim-blaming articles. One article referred to Meagher and her husband as loving “partying” and another article chastised Meagher for walking home on a dark street.
On September 24, 3AW shock jock Neil Mitchell said he hoped Meagher might have been “off partying somewhere, [because] judging from her Facebook page she likes a good party”.
Writer Clementine Ford poured ridicule on Mitchell and various internet trolls, in her column in Daily Life, for lecturing women that they bring attacks on themselves if they go out late at night drinking.
But compared with other cases of women going missing, there has been surprisingly little mainstream media criticism of Meagher for “asking for it” by being out late at night and walking home alone.
When women who are sex workers – or are promiscuous, or are not in stable relationships – go missing there is usually widespread victim-blaming in the mainstream media.
Since the terrible discovery of Meagher’s body, opposition leader Tony Abbott and the police have called for the widespread installation of CCTV cameras, given the role of CCTV footage in the identification of a suspect in the case.
However, more CCTV cameras are not the solution. The huge majority of sexual and physical assaults of women take place in the home by someone known to the victim. The underlying issue is the social acceptance of harassment and violence against women, in public or in the home.
The most public examples of this are the women who hang out with footballers and are sexually assaulted or raped. Sexual assault is widely excused if the woman is perceived as having been drunk and/or flirtatious.
The best way to protect women is to combat the social acceptance that sexual assault is OK if a woman has had a few drinks or is flirtatious.
Women in Brunswick have responded positively to the fear that has been generated by Meagher’s disappearance. They are planning to defy the fear, and assert that women have a right to feel safe to walk on the streets, with a Reclaim the Night Sydney Road march.
As one Facebook post said: “Rest in peace Jill Meagher. I hope your legacy is an Australia where we teach our sons not to attack women, not one where we teach our daughters to fear life.”