Just a few days ago, 17-year old Australian student Masa Vukotic was brutally murdered in a park during part of her exercise routine. Detective Inspector Mick Hughes, in response to this needless death, told the community that people—“particularly females”—should not be alone in the parks.
Vukotic was attacked and killed around 7pm; it was still daylight, and there would have been people around. Even if she had been running at 4am in the dark, there was nothing wrong with her activity. Are women expected to stay at home or travel in groups at all times in order to prevent being attacked? Should we have legally-enforced chaperones and curfews? This mentality places the responsibility on the women to somehow circumvent their attacker’s intentions by avoiding participation in basic aspects of life.
Hughes’ comment is especially cringeworthy considering the strides former Victoria police commissioner Ken Lay made about trying to fix the way police and society understand the nature of violence:
When a woman is jeered, groped, bashed or raped I want you to consider the man who did it, and the culture which encouraged it. I want you to consider why we so ardently place the emphasis on the woman—why was she there? what was she wearing?—rather than on the man’s indecent entitlement, grubbiness and criminality.
Women’s autonomy needs to be treated with respect, not reduced to needing to surrender to the possible danger of others' impulses. Not to mention we are not automatically safe inside the home either. As statistic after statistic illustrates, women are more likely to be killed or assaulted by family members, a current or former partner, or an acquaintance than some stranger on the street. The only way to affect real change is to dismantle the mindset that women are responsible for their own rape and murder because of what they were wearing or how late they went out.
If only more police officers had Lay's attitude towards preventing violence against women. The Guardian quotes Stephen Fontana, Assistant Crime Command Commissioner, defending Hughes by emphasizing his woman-blaming perspective on the issue:
In the last few years Mick and his colleagues have gone to three murders of innocent young women by men completely unknown to them. And no, it isn’t the victim’s fault they were killed—of course it wasn’t. But in reality these crimes do take place and women are predominantly the victims of these crimes.
It was only a few weeks ago that Mukesh Singh, one of the men convicted of gang raping a young woman in India, said that if his victim were a decent woman, she would not have been outside late. It's disheartening to see police forces reinforcing those same ideas and telling us that there is nowhere for us to be safe, day or night. But here we are.
Image c/o Simon O'DwyerPrincess Weekes is a part-time bookseller and a full-time writer with a Master’s in English from Brooklyn College. A former intern at BUST magazine, she has since written articles for The Mary Sue, BUST and maintains her own video channel under the name Melina Pendulum, discussing the intersection of pop culture, feminism and race. She is currently working on a fantasy novel about black witches during the Jim Crow era, while attempting to purchase every liquid lipstick the world has to offer.