When news broke this week about the possible discovery of Hannah Graham’s remains close to where she was last seen in Virginia, it brought back instant memories of Jill Meagher.
Jill was an Irish woman living in the inner suburbs of Melbourne, Australia with her husband, Tom. In September 2012, after a Friday night out with friends, she decided to head home.
She planned to walk the short distance, as she likely often did, as we all do, between a local pub and her apartment. She never made it home.
The story led news headlines all over Australia for the following six days, until Jill’s body was found 30 miles away. Adrian Ernest Bayley, a convicted rapist on parole at the time, was charged with her murder.
Days later, thousands of men and women took to the street where Jill went missing for a peaceful march. It hit everyone hard. Jill was just like me, just like my sisters and my friends and just like Hannah. She was doing something we all do from time to time. She believed she was safe.
The reason I want to highlight these two tragedies is to call out the fact that, whilst similar, they are in no way isolated. This isn’t just about two inhumane men opportunistically preying on young women in public. This is a far wider issue.
You see, these are the major stories that reach the news because they are horrific and tragic, but also because they involve a relatable victim and a predictable predator. But, it isn’t just publicly shamed monsters who commit these horrific acts. And, many of the victimized women may not be as relatable.
None of this means we can ignore it, though.
Men’s violence against women happens every hour of every day, and in every corner of the world. It happens in your neighbor’s home, to the person sitting next to you at work, to the prostitute you drive past at night and the teenager in your classroom at school.
When we don’t speak up and act, we allow so many women to suffer in silence, and we inadvertently create a culture that helps no one. Unfortunately, neither the legal system nor those around us always see these situations of men’s violence against women in equal standing.
In a beautifully written essay by Jill’s husband, for the White Ribbon Campaign, he expresses the crucial need for society to view these tragedies differently; in a way that encompasses the wheres and whys of the origin of men's acts of violence against women and how we might begin to change it.
What would make this tragedy even more tragic would be if we were to separate what happened to Jill from cases of violence against women where the victim knew, had a sexual past with, talked to the perpetrator in a bar, or went home with him. It would be tragic if we did not recognize that Bayley’s previous crimes were against prostitutes, and that the social normalization of violence against a woman of a certain profession and our inability to deal with or talk about these issues, socially and legally, resulted in untold horror for those victims, and led to the brutal murder of my wife. If a prostitute is raped or beaten, we may consider it an awful occupational hazard ‘given her line of work.’ We rarely think ‘she didn’t get beaten – somebody (i.e a man) beat her’. Her line of work is dangerous, but mainly because there are men who want to hurt women. If a husband batters his wife, we often unthinkingly put it down to socio-economic factors or alcohol and drugs rather than how men and boys are taught and socialized to be men and view women. I wonder at what stage we will stop being shocked by how normal a rapist seemed.
Tom’s heartfelt piece highlights a key issue. There is an underlying tone that exists in our thinking, and it needs to stop. Instead of focusing on the perpetrator, we focus on the victim and the circumstances that surround the situation.
In reality, in shouldn’t matter if the woman was walking home alone, in a relationship with the man or faced the situation in her line of work when the act occurred. By focusing on the victim, we’re taking attention away from the real problems in society that often lead to violence against women.
The horrific cases that do reach the media mobilize a phenomenal wave of outrage in the community, and they should. Of course we’re angry. A young woman in her freshman year goes out with friends for a night of fun and freedom. She should have had the basic right to feel safe.
It sickens me that the first person to approach Hannah Graham that night was a man who harmed her instead of a man concerned about whether she was okay, if she needed to call a friend.
What we need to realize is that both women and men shouldn’t just be mobilized to fight for the safety of women when a major publicized case like Hannah’s or Jill’s occurs. We should always have the motivation to fight for this; it happens every day so we need push for change every day.
After all, we’re a generation with the power to create major social change. Through the force of social movements and online campaigns and social media, we can so easily get this message out.
We can’t let the anger we feel right now fall away because, in doing so, we’re doing nothing to influence the changes we need to see.
Sadly, we can’t protect every woman from the monster on the street or the violent man in her life. But maybe, just maybe, we can protect some women by speaking out about violence against women, about gender equality and about women’s rights on a global scale.
Many men are just as angry as we women are about this prevalent issue; they may even be more outraged. Every time a woman is disrespected in any way, big or small, we take a backward step in shifting society toward a more equal standing.
We need men on our side; we need your help in speaking out. Men and women must work together to put a stop to violence between the genders. Silence helps no one. A combined voice can make all the difference.
Photo Courtesy: We Heart It