i want all victims to be remembered
**Trigger warning: discussion of rape and sexual violence**
The communal grief, horror and condemnation following the brutal rape and murder of Jill Meagher helps us feel as one; a united front against the brutal reality ofviolence against women still so prevalent in our society. We feel overcome with sadness and hopelessness but nonetheless, we are united. We know this is wrong. And we want it to stop.
It is indeed supremely shameful that our society still facilitates such violence against women. This period will be an unbearably, overwhelmingly difficult one for Jill Meagher’s loved ones. Yesterday, Adrian Bayley, the man who raped and murdered Jill Meagher, was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum jail term of 35 years. But no sentence handed down will bring forth closure or even a sense of justice. Not for the family and friends who will need to face the personal realities of violence against women; those who will feel the ripple effects of such violence again and again – ripples that will lap at the edges of good days and ripples that will feel like pounding surf on bad days.
But with my wishes are not just with Jill Meagher’s loved ones. My wish is that every victim who is sexually assaulted and murdered will be mourned, just like Jill Meagher. And my wish is that every man responsible for these lesser known, but no less tragic, offences is held accountable – not just Adrian Bayley.
Yet I realise that this wish will not be granted. And it is a long, long way off.
Sometimes, we can feel somewhat bombarded by news and opinions that seem so random and unconnected – until we realise they’re not. They all relate to violence against women. They all relate to power and control. They all point to a deep and ingrained and yet, at the same time, an altogether slippery, moveable and somewhat indescribable societal foundation that encourages and perpetuates and facilitates gendered violence.
You see, in the past few days, I’m finding it difficult to reconcile the collision of contradictory societal views on violence against women. How strange it is to sit back and contemplate community reaction to the varying circumstances and different contexts in which violence against women occurs. And to realise that it is not the crime – or even the offender – that is judged. Instead, the measure of the horror of violence against women still largely rests on how we “measure” the victim: how does she measure up against our perceptions of what is or isn’t a “worthy” victim? Did she know the offender? Were they in a relationship? Was she under the influence of drugs or alcohol? Was she living a “clean” life? Not every victim will be recognised or mourned like Jill Meagher. It is a sad reflection of our elitist society that if you’re going to go missing, it pays to be young, good looking and well connected. Spare a thought for women who might be worth a passing mention here or there; women who may have met a similar fate to Jill Meagher, but who will fade from our consciousness as quickly as our screen refreshes.
A woman is killed every week by a current or former partner. These women are not mourned nation-wide. On Tuesday, AFL footballer Steven Milne was charged with four counts of rape, nine years after the alleged sexual assault occurred. Controversy surrounds decisions about whether it is appropriate or not for Milne to continue playing while he is facing these charges, with little thought of the victim whose life was presumably somewhat on hold for nine years. Sexual assault victims frequently speak of having “life sentences” – an appropriate analogy in light of Bayley’s life sentence. But never mind, we have football to think about.
And then tennis player Serena Williams reinforces how far society still has to go before non-stranger rape will be rightfully viewed as just that: rape. Willams has suggested that a teenage rape victim ‘shouldn’t have put herself in that position’ and was ‘lucky’ not to have been further injured during the sexual attack, pointing to the victims intoxication as the catalyst for the sexual offending – rather than the actions of the offenders.
I’m saddened, not just by the reminder of how Jill Meagher’s life came to an end, and by what her loved ones must endure knowing the violent way in which her life was ended, but by a society that still allows violence against women to occur at such high levels, in our own homes. Yes, women are reporting. Yes, police and courts are taking action. But it is still occurring. And while it is tantalisingly easy to be jolted into visible shock and horror – and indeed action (think of the thousands of people marching for Jill Meagher) – by stranger danger and random street attacks, it is so easy to forget the nameless, faceless, invisible victims of the majority of violence committed against women.
My wish is that all victims of crime are remembered.
If you are experiencing sexual assault or domestic and family violence, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800 737 732