Women’s safety and the murder of Eurydice Dixon - Why Australians need to act

I love a sunburnt country, 

A land of sweeping plains, 

Of ragged mountain ranges, 

Of droughts and flooding rains. 

I love her far horizons, 

I love her jewel-sea, 

Her beauty and her terror 

The wide brown land for me!( Dorothea Mackellar)

This stanza is widely known amongst most Australians or those with a love of the country and culture. Australia is known for its natural beauty and the friendly, laid back candidness of its people. But, something is wrong, so wrong with the social fabric of the suntanned nation. Australia has twice the global average of reported rape cases (reported, not those shamefully kept secret perpetrated by those known or unknown to us). I love my country, but I am truly scared of the culture. The culture that doesn’t value women.

In Australia, every week a woman is murdered by her partner. Our culture is one known to minimise, to not ‘dob’ to keep everything in and remain stoic. Australians don’t snitch but Australians also don’t speak up.

With these startling statistics it is not uncommon to know someone who has been a victim via rape, domestic violence, or murdered. The abuse can come from a partner, family member or be a random attack. There are horrific murders, that mobilise the country in grief, and others that suffer or die without reporting. Last weeks murder of nineteen year old comedian Eurydice Dixon whose body was found on a football field, after she had been raped and murdered enraged the nation. Vigils were held throughout the country and in the football field where she was found. A case hasn’t had so much media attention or drawn such a large conversation since the rape and murder of Jill Meagher.

Jill Meagher was raped and murdered in 2012 by a convicted rapist out on bail. She was young, beautiful, well esteemed by those that knew her, happily married and worked for ABC Broadcasting. The country followed her story and demanded maximum sentencing for the sadistic rapist Adrian Bayley. Jill had a very short walk home after regular Friday night drinks with her colleagues, she didn’t make it. Jill worked in media and her story was pushed to the forefront by her colleagues in Victoria, nationwide and also her native Ireland.

Other states, such as Queensland have media blocks and we don’t often hear the full details about horrific crimes. Such as, Fabiana Palhares who died from being tomahawked in the head by her partner Brock Wall, in 2016. Despite being so horrific, this case just made a regional newspaper on the Gold Coast. I would have never of read about her death unless I did not click the GoFundMe campaign in my inbox from a mutual friend raising money to send her body back to her native Brazil. 

A staggering 27.5% of Australian women have experienced intimate partner violence (2017, Australian Human Rights Commission report). A more recent study has estimated that 27.5% of Australian women have experienced violence and a further 75% or partner murders victims are women. A trend revealed 40.8% had experienced some form of violence since the age of 15. This is devastating news. 

What environments are we raising our children in and how can we secure them a safer future?

White Ribbon, Australia’s peak body addressing violence against women choose to commence their programs in primary schools they believe schools play a ‘pivotal role in breaking the cycle of violence by teaching young people how to recognise and challenge violence against women and build respectful relationships’. Their said program ‘Breaking the Silence’ engages the broader school community to promote and role model gender equality to create a safe, inclusive school culture to stop violence against women’. 

Recent actions by the Australian government include the: ‘The National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children’ 2010-2022’ the twelve-year plan aims to coordinate actions across Australian jurisdictions to reduce levels of violence against women. The Plan seeks to achieve six national outcomes:

1 Communities are safe and free from violence

2 Relationships are respectful

3 Indigenous communities are strengthened

4 Services meet the needs of women and their children experiencing violence

5 Justice responses are effective

6 Perpetrators stop their violence and are held to account.[3

Punishment

There are calls that Australia has very lenient sentences for rapists, and has many repeat offenders. Each state has different laws and the public shaming of women who have been rape victims prevents many women from enduring humiliating court cases. Their clothing, and movements around the attacks are always questioned as are if they have had one or two drinks. Socialising and getting dressed however you please are clearly not crimes but Australia has a flippant culture. It is typical to hear ‘Her skirt was so short, she was asking for it’. The law and the public do not appear to be on the victims side and many women fear being judged by the public, their peers and even their families. According to the UN, Australia ranks below South Africa in rates of reported rapes followed by Jamaica and Swaziland. 

Surprising?

 So, are the length of jail sentences and the number of convicted rapists who actually serve their full time. In New South Wales, only 4% of reported rapes will see their rapist complete their full jail time. Sentencing needs to be tougher. Victims think he will get off anyway, and fear more emotional and mental pain living through a case. Rapists know they have a fair chance of getting off free!

Will the The National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children work? After its proposed twelve year action plan will we see a reduction in violence, rape and murder against Australian women? I don’t know. I hope so. Family and intimate violence against women costs the country $22 billion a year. Enormous changes need to be made to collectively change thinking and behaviours in Australia. Schools are integral to this change as are other places of learning and influence. Australia is a privileged place that one would think would escape some violence of ‘poorer’ nations. But, I will safeguard my daughter and teach her that the world is not a safe place. I won’t let her walk a no matter how short a distance alone and will always be available for the ‘pick up’ and safe drive home.