It was just a handful of paragraphs in a newspaper but I
have never forgotten her story. It must be ten years ago now, maybe more.
A ‘friend’ invited her to go and smoke a joint in a shopping
centre car park. It was late, dark and deserted. Except for one other car. Her
ex-boyfriend’s. Enraged that she had moved on from their relationship, he beat
her almost to death as the ‘friend’ and one other person looked on. Lying on
the cold concrete, they left her to die. And she did, slowly.
I don’t recall her name. Perhaps the article did not give
it. But here are some other names that I am determined not to forget.
A month or so back, there was one particular week when I
heard all three of these names mentioned in the media. Reported in that same
week, the court case of the female student who died after being gang-raped on a bus in
New Delhi and news that an 18-year-old girl had been attacked while walking
home alone one evening in suburban Sydney.
Five women who had suffered violence at the hands
of men – four of them fatally. And that was just those high profile enough to be mentioned by the
media. It was a week like any other but disturbingly revealing of what kind of
shape our society is in. Of how dangerous the world can be for a woman.
Women have come a long way. We are capable of a great many
things. Wonderful things. Innovative things. We create, we pioneer, we lead.
And in terrifyingly high numbers, we are violated and murdered at the hands of
I could not recall if the New Delhi woman’s name had been
released (it has not) so in preparation for writing this piece, I googled
“gang-rape of Indian woman” – but it took me a moment to find her story because
what happened to her is not unique. It had happened before her. And it has
happened since. It is happening.
It was a week when I could not deny that as a woman, I am
vulnerable in this world.
I asked Bren if he lived his daily life with fear for his
personal safety. He said no. I asked him whether he realised I did. He said no.
“I do, “ I told him, “most days. Sometimes just a fleeting
thought but pretty much every day, I consider how my safety could be
When someone walks too close behind me; in car parks; on
public transport; stopped at lights in my car; in the stairwell at the gym
where the light is often off or flickering; when someone looks at me for too long;
passing by a group of two or more men; walking alone (day or night); using
public toilets; entering my house; answering the door at home; sleeping
overnight if Bren is not home.
And so many other scenarios. It’s not a gripping fear. I don’t
walk around waiting for the sky to fall. But I am aware. Always aware.
In Year 9 at my all-girls school, we had a subject in self-defence.
In addition to learning how to gouge someone’s eyes out or kick them in the
nuts, we had to draw up a floor plan of our homes and work out the best escape
routes. We were told never to undress in front of an open window, even with the
Such an intense message for a fourteen-year-old-girl. I can’t
tell you a thing I learnt in Year 9 French but I can't walk in front of a window at night without thinking of who could be lurking outside.
I don’t live my days paralysed with thoughts of ‘what if’.
When I was fifteen, my family learnt a very real lesson about how bad luck can
find you, even in the sanctuary of your own home. We all had to make a
conscious decision to go on living as normal.
But I can tell you this. I am angry. I am angry that women
are not safe. I am angry that it is drilled into us from an early age that as
females, we are vulnerable. I am furious that the responsibility to not get
raped still lies with us. It’s unfair, yes, but even more so, it’s bullshit. We
can no more prevent getting raped than we can prevent getting a cold this
winter. Modest clothing and alcohol abstinence, not walking after dark and
locking ourselves in a fucking fortress. If a man means to harm us, they probably can.
Imagine if women could just live and men could just NOT
RAPE. Or bully, intimidate, shove, punch, kick, abuse, belittle, murder.
How about when the girls take a self-defence class, the boys
take a How to Treat a Woman class? Why it’s Wrong to Rape class? Why Your
Aggressive Behaviour Means You Have A Miniscule Dick class?
I have two sons and a huge responsibility to send them out
into the world with a different mindset than too many boys seem to have grown
up with. Am I likely to be raising rapists? No. But what about the followers?
Those who would stand passively by?
I want my sons to know there are no women who are less
deserving of respect: girls who sleep around; sex workers. Inside us all is the
need to valued and loved.
I want my sons to call their friends out if they hear them
speaking in an insulting manner about a girl.
I want my sons to understand that terms like “cock tease”
and “asking for it” are archaic terms invented by men who have a misplaced
sense of entitlement when it comes to women and sex.
I want my sons to know they are never ‘entitled’ to sex –
ever. Nothing a girl may say, do or wear can change that.
I want my sons to know that violence is wrong and that when
it is perpetrated against a woman, it is the most cowardly act of all.
I want my sons to know that what they see depicted in porn
is not what a real sexual relationship is like, that a face is not for
ejaculating on (unless she says it is) and most women will not be satisfied with
being slammed into from behind. In a loving relationship between two consenting
adults, sure, anything goes but that stuff comes with time and trust.
As they get older and based on age-appropriateness, I will
talk to my sons about these things. Even if it’s awkward and even if they’re
embarrassed. When there is a week in the media like the one I have described
above, I will challenge them to think about it, how they feel about a world
where their mum, sister, granma, female friends can be so undervalued.
I will not be silent. And though my voice may be the tiniest
of echoes, I know my sons will hear me. And for that reason alone, it will have
been worth speaking.