Thursday, October 11, 2012

Jill Meagher - a tragedy

The recent rape and murder of Jill Meagher has saddened me.  Her death is a tragic loss for her family and friends.  But her death has also stirred other emotions.  It has also made me angry.  How dare a man take the life of a beautiful young woman whose only crime was to walk home alone late one night?  How dare he take away her inalienable right to walk freely, without interference, wherever and whenever she damn well pleases?  No doubt some less enlightened types will start to look to the victim’s behaviour for explanations:  why was she alone so late at night?  What was she wearing?  Was she intoxicated?  In other words, how did Jill Meagher bring this misfortune on herself?

Well, fuck that shit, I say.  Jill Meagher did nothing wrong.  Jill Meagher’s only mistake was not to realise that some men still view women as prey, as playthings to use to live out their sick fantasies, to be discarded when their usefulness has ended.

We don’t like to think that there are men out there like that.  Of course, it is only a tiny minority of men who make the leap from violent fantasy to actualisation.  But one can’t forget that this type of behaviour is only one end of the spectrum of violence targeted towards women.  Women everywhere are subjected to all kinds of abuse: the unwanted sexual advance, the “accidental” boob grope on a crowded train, the pressure to “put out” after a man has paid for dinner.  These abuses range from subtle hints whispered into your ear, to egregious public exhortations to “show us yer tits”, to sexual assault and rape.

The Women’s Safety Survey of 1995, carried out by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, found that an estimated 1.2 million women in Australia aged 18 and over had experienced sexual violence, or the threat of sexual violence, since the age of 15.  One in 10 women had disclosed an incident of sexual violence by an intimate partner.  And before men start bleating, “but men are the victims of rape and sexual assault too and no one ever talks about that”, the survey found that 99% of the perpetrators of sexual violence incidents experienced in the 12 months prior to the study were men.  I’m not suggesting that sexual violence against men should not be taken seriously.  Sexual violence against anyone is wrong.  However, the overwhelming majority of victims of sexual violence in our society are women.

I am one of these women.  I am a sexual assault survivor.  When I was 20 years old I was in a relationship with an abusive man.  Four months into our relationship he started using me as a punching bag.  One night in my flat he became particularly enraged over some imagined infraction of the relationship “rules”.  He threw me down on my bed, wrapped a football sock around my neck and started choking me.  He then raped me.  Shortly after the rape, my boyfriend assaulted me in public and the police became involved.  The police sergeant who took my statement accused me of giving myself a black eye and pressured me into not charging my boyfriend.  I left the police station in tears.  At 20 I was quite a naïve girl who’d led quite a sheltered life up until that point.  I had only moved away from my family to the live in the city, by myself, a few months prior to the assault.  If I had not had the support of my father, who travelled to Sydney to be with me when I returned to the police station to give my statement, and who made it very clear to the sergeant that he expected them to investigate my complaint and charge the offender, it is possible I could have been dissuaded from going ahead with the matter.  In any case, my now ex-boyfriend only received a fine and probation, while I had to change the locks on my flat, park my car in a different street far away from my flat every day, change my phone number and constantly look over my shoulder because he continued to harass me even after he was charged and had an AVO served on him.  Is it any wonder that women often do not report domestic assault or sexual assaults to the police?

My next experience of sexual assault occurred while out drinking with a group of friends.  One of the men in the group had only been introduced to me that night.  He was a friend of one of my female friends.  In fact, she had the hots for him and had been trying to bed him for months, without success.  We were having a good time at our favourite pub, choosing songs on the jukebox and playing pool.  I was drinking cider.  I’d say I was mildly intoxicated.  Nature was calling, so I went to the ladies bathroom.  I stepped inside the cubicle and before I’d had a chance to lock the door, this guy was wrenching the door open and pushing me inside the cubicle.  He didn’t say a word.  He sexually assaulted me and then left the bathroom.  The whole incident lasted no longer than a couple of minutes.  I was stunned.  I didn’t know what to do.  I cleaned myself up as best I could, left the bathroom, and rejoined my friends in the pub.  He was sitting there, drinking, like nothing had happened.  I tried to tell my friend what had happened, but she had seen him follow me into the bathroom and had assumed it was consensual.  She was pissed off at me for “stealing her man” and gave me the cold shoulder.  I left the pub and went home.

I didn’t go to the police.  I had been drinking.  Based on my previous experience with the police, in all likelihood they would have told me I was partially responsible because I was intoxicated.  I didn’t particularly feel like being denigrated all over again so I went home and tried to forget about it.  But here’s the thing:  you can’t forget.  Each instance of sexual harassment or sexual abuse makes something inside you change a little bit.  It also makes you angry that the threat of sexual abuse is held over your head every time you face the world.  You may think that sounds overly dramatic.  Think again:  at any time, just by virtue of your gender, you could be the target of sexual abuse.  Does that sound fair?   Should a woman not enjoy a few drinks when she goes out so she can be more vigilant about possible risks to her safety?  Should women have to modify what they wear so as not to entice men to sexually assault her?  Should women be the ones who constantly have to police their own behaviour to ensure they are not at risk of being victimised by men?  The answer to these questions should be a resounding NO.   Where is male responsibility in these scenarios?  The vast majority of men are decent human beings who find violence towards women abhorrent and are equally outraged by the behaviour of some of their brethren.  They are equally disgusted by men who think women are “asking for it” by dressing “provocatively” or being intoxicated in public.  Because here’s the awful truth:  men who sexually abuse women give other men a bad name.  They reduce men to victims of their biology.  “Her tits were on display”, “she was flirting with me”, “she was dressed like a slut”, “she was turning me on, what was I supposed to do?” are all justifications some men use to excuse sexual violence.  It assumes that men are incapable of controlling their sexual urges, that men, once their lust has been aroused, are incapable of knowing right from wrong.  And that, frankly, is bullshit. Women shouldn’t have to fear that they are unwittingly awakening a lust monster that cannot be contained, and men should be offended that they aren’t credited with any agency regarding their sexual behaviour.

Lest any less enlightened types out there want to accuse me of being anti-male, I hereby declare that I love men.  I am lucky to have many wonderful men in my life: my husband, my father, my brother, and numerous beautiful male friends who also find violence against women unconscionable.  I refuse to let my small number of bad experiences with violent men colour my feelings about other men.  I’m not permanently damaged because I’m a sexual abuse survivor.  I’m not about hating on men.  I’m about promoting a society where women can live without fear of sexual violence, and where men can be free of the suspicion that they are all potential rapists and sexual abusers, unable to control their sexual urges.  In my eyes, this is a win-win situation.

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