The news of Jill Meagher's death has rightly distressed many Australians. However, much mainstream media and internet commentary have taken this as an opportunity to blame the victim for what happened to her in an effort to warn other women. This approach is both despicable and wrong.
Melbourne writer Clementine Ford addressed this in her Daily Life piece, "Can we please stop the victim blaming?"
She said: “Some folk are still relishing the opportunity to remind women that if they don’t want anything bad to happen to them, they should be more careful about drinking/staying out late/talking to strangers who aren’t their husbands/wearing suggestive clothing/walking while female/having a vagina in the first place."
Ford said women already take measures to ensure their safety when they leave the house. She tweeted on Sept 27: "I have never met a single woman without a tip or tale about how she protects herself. Stop telling us to be more careful: YOU DON'T KNOW."
To prove this, she started the hashtag #PrecautionaryTales for women to share their methods, to which hundreds responded with stories of texting taxi driver IDs to a friend and carrying keys as weapons between their fingers.
In a comment widely shared around social media on September 28, Green Left Weekly journalist Tim Dobson said: "That people will conclude from Jill Meagher's disappearance that women should not walk home alone, rather than men shouldn't rape, assault or murder women is indicative of so much that is wrong in our sexist society.
"Justice for Jill would mean all women at all times should be able to walk down any street without threats, harassment or violence directed towards them. It's what we all need to keep fighting for."
As a society, instead of telling women what to wear, how to behave and what to avoid, we need to get a lot better at teaching men not to rape, and that any sexual and other violence against women is not OK.
This does not mean more police and CCTV cameras on the streets to "protect women" and reprimand offenders, and in fact this approach means less safety for women. The low level of convictions in sexual assault cases shows that police presence does little to deter offenders.
Instead, it means taking a long, hard look at how males are conditioned to expect sexual power over females. It means committing to serious changes in the way boys are raised, and in particular, their sex education.
Meagher's case is rare. Most sexual assault and violence against women, including violence resulting in a woman's death, is not a wrong-place-wrong-time random act of awfulness. Most assaults are carried out by someone known to the victim, and most often this is a partner or relative.
Far more needs to be done to educate men on how to be respectful to the women in their lives and to create the circumstances in which gender equality can truly exist. In a society that is apparently built on the "foundation stone" of the family unit, violence inside the home needs to be addressed in tandem with violence on the street if we are to make real progress.
[Brisbane’s Reclaim the Night protest – an annual protest against sexual violence, will take place on October 26. Visit Reclaim the Night Brisbane on Facebook.]