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jill meagher: our daughter, our sister, our friend

On 21 September 2012, a young woman finished her work week and joined her colleagues for Friday night drinks at a nearby bar. Sound like a familiar story? That’s probably because many of us were doing the exact same thing. An ordinary woman, with an ordinary job, living an ordinary life; so why does everybody know her story? It was the events that happened next that catapulted her into the national consciousness. I am, of course, telling the story of Jill Meagher, a woman who was brutally raped and murdered in the early hours of the following morning while on the short walk home from her night out.

You know how people say ‘I’ll never forget where I was when I found out Princess Diana died’ or ‘I’ll always remember the moment I heard that Elvis Presley was dead’? I will forever remember coming home late that Saturday evening, getting into bed, turning on the radio and hearing the first media reports of Jill’s disappearance. The ABC Nightlife presenter announced that one of his co-workers had been missing for just under 24 hours and that her friends at the ABC and her family were all very worried about her wellbeing. Usually the radio helps me sleep, but I remember lying awake for hours listening for updates.

For days, the whole of Australia waited for news. Social media sites were inundated with photos and information, in an effort to find the woman who had captured our hearts and minds. I remember shuddering when I saw the haunting CCTV footage of Jill and “the man in the blue hoodie” and perhaps what surprises me the most is that I, a non-religious person, prayed for her safe return. Tragically, five days after Jill Meagher was reported missing, her body was found buried in a shallow grave 50 kilometres away from the scene of the crime. When the news of her death broke, I was inconsolable. I wept for a woman I’d never known, while at the same time weeping for everyone I’d ever known.

According to a government report, approximately 85 people go missing every day in Australia, so why was there such a public outpouring of grief for Jill Meagher? The reason is that it could have been anyone; our friends, our sisters, ourselves. She was living the life I dreamt of living; working at the ABC, married, living in the city, being sociable and enjoying her young life. It really cut to the quick.

I hate the fact that I feel unsafe walking the streets or catching a taxi alone after dark. I hate that I have to think about whether or not I will be able to defend myself in case of attack if I have “one more drink”. I hate holding my keys like knuckle dusters. I hate the feeling I get in the pit of my stomach hearing footsteps behind me after nightfall. I hate that I have to hate.

Jill Meagher, like so many other young women who fall prey to sexual predators, was not the only victim of this heinous crime. Her husband Tom said he had been robbed and his future, love and companionship had been replaced with fear, insomnia and anger. Jill Meagher’s killer was sentenced to life in prison with a non-parole period of 35 years. The sentence was bittersweet for Jill’s family and friends. It is a timely reminder that violence against women is not just a “women’s issue” but one that affects every single person in the community. Whether you are a woman or you care about a woman, the issue is one that requires a united approach. Jill Meagher will live on in the hearts of those who loved her, as well as in a nation who never knew her, but is still haunted by her senseless death.

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