A couple of years back, my friend and I thought it’d be funny to apply for The Bachelor as a joke. My application was partially serious, strangers in pubs have told me that I would make for good reality TV entertainment; I like to pretend it has nothing to do with my slightly obnoxious tendencies and incredibly loud laugh. I remember getting to one question on the application that made me stop in my tracks. The question was what is your greatest fear and why?
I have an irrational phobia of matted hair. I physically cannot pull hair out of hairbrushes, I get my roommates to do it for me (which they kindly do, sometimes even unprompted!) And don’t get me started on pulling hair out of the drain, I’m retching at the thought. When it comes to a genuine fear (as opposed to a slightly irrational phobia), I could only think of one. Rape.
Fast forward a few years, not much has changed, except thanks to several breaking news stories murder is now up there tied with rape. The first one that really struck me was the murder of Australian schoolteacher Stephanie Scott. She was a 26-year-old teacher, due to be married in a few days, when she went to her school to finalise lessons for her relief teacher. At the time, April 2015, 28 women had already been killed in Australia due to violence against women. I posted an angry status at the time, calling out that the need for consent and respect for each other must be taught and discussed in schools, workplaces, universities and at family homes, I didn’t want anyone I knew to become a statistic. I called upon people to take a stand and use it as an opportunity for awareness, education, and to make a change to commit to eradicating violence against women. Stephanie Scott was doing her job when she was raped and murdered.
June 2018, Eurydice Dixon was walking home after performing at a comedy gig and texted her boyfriend just before midnight saying she was almost home safe. At 2:50 am a passer-by found her body in the middle of a football field, a couple of hundred metres from her home. Another smiling face broadcast across national and international media. Another woman lost to senseless violence. Another statistic. Eurydice Dixon was walking home from a comedy gig when she was raped and murdered.
The following month, Mollie Tibbetts, a former cross country, went for a jog near her home. She failed to turn up for work the next day, and didn’t contact her family, boyfriend or friends. A month later, police identified a suspect and led police to her body hidden in a cornfield. The suspect had pursued her in his vehicle, parked his car and started running near her. She threatened to call the police and ran off. He panicked, got mad and “doesn’t remember what happened next.” Mollie was going for her nightly jog when she was murdered.
Two months later, a champion golfer Celia Barquín Arozamena, was finishing up the first nine holes on a public golf course down the road from her university when she was attacked by a man and murdered. Golfers playing behind her spotted her abandoned bag at 10:20am and reported the episode to police. About an hour later, police found her body abandoned in a nearby pond. Celia Barquín Arozamena was playing golf in broad daylight when she was murdered.
More recently, the world was rocked by the news of missing British backpacker Grace Millane in New Zealand. It’s terrible to admit, but unfortunately these stories are all too common and although everyone hoped, deep down we knew she wouldn’t be found alive. Grace Millane was at the prime of her life, a recent graduate taking a gap year and travelling around the world when she was murdered.
All these murders happened under different circumstances and highlight it can happen anytime, anywhere. I could be going to work, and I could get murdered. I could be walking home, and I could get murdered. I could be jogging and get murdered. I could partake in a sport that I love and get murdered. I could be on holiday, travelling, and I could get murdered. Yet people blamed Eurydice when she died, she was walking home alone at night. People blamed Grace when she died. She was allegedly using a dating app whilst travelling alone. Going to work on a weekend didn’t kill Stephanie, walking alone didn’t kill Eurydice, going for a jog didn’t kill Mollie, playing golf didn’t kill Celia and travelling solo didn’t kill Grace. The only thing that killed these women, are the men that murdered them. People who say otherwise, who tell women to travel in packs, text people their location, hold their keys between their knuckles – they’re putting the responsibility and the consequence on women. They are blaming the woman for being assaulted, for being raped, and for being murdered.
I have put myself in many dangerous situations. I’ve been black out drunk. I’ve woken up with vomit down the side of the bed and had no recollection of it whatsoever. I’ve gone back to complete strangers’ houses and spent the night there (not even for sex, literally just sleeping at their houses). I have left drinks out in the open and gone back and drank them after. I’ve gone on dates with people who are essentially strangers from the internet. I’ve been a woman travelling alone. I’ve been a woman walking alone. I’ve been a woman in the workplace, outside of regular work hours, alone. I’ve been a woman walking my dog alone. I’ve been a woman going for a run alone. I have done all those things that Eurydice, Grace, Mollie, Celia and Stephanie were doing when they had their lives taken.
Equally I am not frivolous. I have immediately left a club and taken my heels off, so I could use them as a weapon if needed. I’ve walked home with my keys between my knuckles, just in case. When it’s not raining, and I feel slightly uncomfortable walking alone, I’ll take the umbrella that is always in my bag (I do live in London) and I’ll walk with it in my hand, knowing it doubles as a makeshift weapon for self-defence. I often take one headphone out and pause music when walking alone at night. If I walk past groups of men, I glance up, making sure not to make eye contact, but to get enough of a visual if I have to recount their appearance to police after.
I have sent friends live locations of my movements when travelling around London unknown. When travelling internationally, I message family members every day. I once made a four-week itinerary and printed off contact numbers for every tour I was doing and left a copy with my parents, and one in my hotel room. I have saved numbers for embassies on my phone when travelling. I always live with that fear in the back of my mind that if I cross the path of a certain type of male, I’m then a statistic. I could forever be a smiling face plastered across news bulletins and newspapers, a warning to future females about what to do to avoid the same fate as me.
I’ve done everything women have been told not to do. I’ve done everything women have been told to do to protect themselves. And the only reason I haven’t been raped and/or murdered is because the men that have crossed paths with me didn’t rape or murder me. The blame should not be on me. What I was doing at the time, how much I’d had to drink, the length of my skirt, the type of underwear I was wearing should not and should never be taken into consideration. The blame should always and firmly be on the man who forces themselves on a woman without consent, the blame should only be laid upon man who decides to senselessly kill a woman. The first response should not be on what a woman was wearing. It should be what gives anyone the right to violate another human being like that?
The questions that should be asked are what makes a man think it’s okay to commit such senseless, random and horrific attacks against a woman, what makes a man think they have the right to a woman’s body, why do police and the media use what the woman was doing to explain why these awful incidents occurred? And WHY is there still such little respect for women in the 21st century?
It’s 2019. Unfortunately, I know that throughout the year I’m going to see several beautiful faces smiling up at me, the world knowing their name and their face purely because their lives were ended prematurely due to a senseless and brutal attack. Who’s to say I won’t be one of them? But this time, I want to call on responders and the media and the public to stop warning women what to do and what not to do to avoid being raped and murdered. I want men to stop raping women. I want men to stop murdering women. Put the blame on the rapists. Put the blame on the murderers. Only on them.
Between the time of writing and publication, there has been another high-profile murder of an Arab-Israeli exchange student in Melbourne. Aiia Maasarwe was walking home, on the phone to her sister, when she was raped and murdered. This piece is dedicated to Aiia, Grace, Mollie, Celia and every other women mentioned in this article and also who have suffered at the hands of someone who cannot take no for an answer, unfortunately there are too many to list.