People march through Brunswick in Melbourne after the murder of Jill Meagher. AAP
RIP Jill Meagher: but let’s not forget the other female victims of violence
by Julie Stephens, 6 October 2012
The outpouring of emotion for murdered Irish woman Jill Meagher was intense and genuine. But why don’t we see similar displays for all female victims of violence? In Melbourne, an estimated 30,000 people walked along Sydney Road Brunswick in what was presented as a “peace march” to honour the life of…
The outpouring of emotion for murdered Irish woman Jill Meagher was intense and genuine. But why don’t we see similar displays for all female victims of violence?
In Melbourne, an estimated 30,000 people walked along Sydney Road Brunswick in what was presented as a “peace march” to honour the life of Jill Meagher, the victim of a horrific rape and murder. According to the organiser Philip Werner, the aim was to show support for “peace, hope, non-violence and solidarity with all women”.
While this was a remarkable event in many ways, notable for its scale, diversity and unprompted display of public grief, it was also a thoroughly depoliticised occasion, rendering ineffective any claim to genuinely challenge violence against women. It was a peace march with little reference, except in the most abstract sense, to the nature of the war it was opposing.
If violence against women is about power and domination and structural gender inequalities, then media representations of this recent murder have done a good job of disguising this fact. In a determined but understandable effort to avoid victim blaming, the social context of such crimes have been sadly overlooked. Variously depicted as “random” and an “extremely rare event”, or as being in the wrong place at the wrong time, gendered violence has been delinked from the social and cultural conditions that produce it.
To be fair, many participants on the “peace march” expressed unease about the confused messages here. Some felt that if it could happen to someone like Jill Meagher, then it could happen to them or to their daughters. Much discussion focussed on Melbourne being a very safe city for women. Yet, Victorian police statistics show a steady annual increase in reported rapes in recent years, including an 11.8 per cent increase in 2010-2011.
Melbourne is also a major international destination for women trafficked into sex slavery, according to a recent University of Queensland study. How can these legitimate personal concerns for women’s safety be reconciled with the wider social context of violence against women?