I attended La Trobe University in Bundoora.
From the years of 2002 to 2005. A couple of my high school friends went there too, however we were all varied in our fields of study.
One such friend and I, though interests apart, chose a general subject to study that saw us come together once a week.
Anthropology. 2 hours a week in the late evening, we would often drive in and then drive back home, taking turns at the driver’s seat, and then once the 2 hours were up, made our long walk over to ‘one’ of the car parks.
There were A LOT of car parks. Back in those years, there were about 8. You had to walk some distance through the buildings and grounds and amidst tall trees and bushes of varying greenery to get there…
But there was nothing to be scared of. I remember even when daylight savings ended, and our walk to the car park was amidst black night, our biggest concern was whether spiders had already set up their webs, and so we walked hands outstretched hoping to God we wouldn’t feel something unsightly crawling on our skins.
The only time I was attacked there, was in broad daylight. It was while walking to a tutorial when something whizzed past my head so quickly and so close, that it stirred the hair on my head. Damn bird.
They were the lethal ones.
Not people. Never ever did I feel unsafe from people.
Days after the fatal assault on Israeli student Aiia Maasarwe, who was involved with the university on an exchange programme and never made it back to her apartment on Tuesday night, and Melbourne and the rest of the country is still left reeling.
Not necessarily because this has never been done before. More, because it continues to.
The feeling of déjà vu is chilling. Only 7 months earlier, a vigil was planned for Eurydice Dixon, who was raped and murdered in Carlton North. Thousands turned up to the silent protest to stand for a woman who was taken unfairly, and also, again so close to home. But that wasn’t the beginning either.
2012 saw the nation horrified at the sudden disappearance of Brunswick woman Jill Meagher. Even before the #metoo movement sparked a chord, 10,000 people marched Sydney Road in protest that once again, a woman could not walk home 5 minutes without being assaulted, raped and killed.
And not even that is the beginning.
Because the problem isn’t with all men. No, far from it. It is the underlying culture that men grow up in, the “boys will be boys,” under-handed sexism, and superior gender that prevails and dominates our everyday life, that is the REAL problem.
It is also the underlying culture that women have to put up with. The cat calls, leers and unwanted attention. The keeping keys on you at all times. Looking over your shoulder. Going out in pairs.
Calling someone as you walk alone.
This is the very act that Aiia did as she walked home for the last time earlier this week. So fearful was she over the 5 minute walk from her regular number 86 tram stop to her apartment, that she would call her sister. To imagine the fear that she held, subdued from her physical space, existing only in her mind, to turn into a full-blown living horror as her sister heard the phone fall, some voices, and then nothing… I can’t even imagine.
I don’t want to. But I remember walking those grounds. I remember the Uni, and how dark everything was at night. I shudder.
As females we message our friends, partners, and family when we get home. Aiia didn’t get to message anyone that night. Her body was found strewn and badly battered, to the point where police are still keeping a tight lid on the horrific details of that night.
“But she shouldn’t have been alone at night,’ my Dad said yesterday as we were talking about it.
And therein lies the problem.
Not with my Dad. The problem isn’t with all of the men in my life, or your life, or even most of the men around us. Because most of the men don’t go around sexually assaulting and then killing people.
But some men DO go around imposing unwanted advances on girls that are alone.
And some men DO go around letting off jeers and whistles and making filthy remarks when a woman walks by.
And sometimes, its these actions that escalate to stuff of full-blown nightmares.
Sadly, females are contributing to this. I say this with hesitation, because as soon as I told my Dad it was not right that Aiia (and every other woman) wasn’t allowed to walk home safely at night, I added
“But, I would never walk alone, and I would never let baby girl do it either.”
We as women, are adding to the dialogue, by saying it is not safe.
The culture remains, and that is the problem.
We aren’t teaching our boys to not rape.
But we are teaching our girls to not walk at night.
PLUS so many more before them. Plus those that are not murdered, but are left with permanent life-time bruises and scars that will horrify their minds for as long as they are alive.
How many more names have to be added to this list before a conscious effort is made to change the way men and women are taught, raised, expected to perform, and excused? How many more hyphens have to appear until repeated sexual offenders, are not put back on the streets to walk amongst everyday people, and given umpteen chances to strike again? (as was the case in the man who murdered Jill Meagher).
You will notice I have not named perpetrators. They are not people. They are inhumane monsters who deserve no name, no voice, no life. Theirs should be taken away, just like those they consciously and with evil effort decided to take.
All that is left now is the memories of those girls, all the could-have beens, should-have beens, and the questions over whether any of this, is leading to change, a conscious effort, anything good, at all.
R.I.P Aiia Maasarwe. Unknown-2019.
Photo by Zoran Kokanovic at Unsplash