Saturday, 29 September 2012

Hard lesson to learn - RIP Jill Meagher

So for any of my wonderful readers from Australia, Ireland or New Zealand, you have probably heard the tragic story of Jill Meagher (pronounced Maher for all of you playing at home) who was murdered last week while walking home from the pub. For any of you who haven't heard the story yet, Jill, a young Irish woman who lived in Melbourne's north with her husband was walking the 4 blocks from a local pub to her home at around 1:30 in the morning when she disappeared. Despite attempts to find her made by her family and thousands of people spreading the news through Facebook, she never made it back home, and her body was found several days later. Yesterday a man from Coburg was arrested and today he was charged with her rape and murder. He was considered a suspect after CCTV footage captured him following Jill home.

Now there are a couple of things that make this story really stand out. The first is the shock that people feel that she was attacked in the middle of a busy street, given how popular the area is where she was, the people who live there are horrified how close this was to home. It has also come as a surprise to everyone who has watched this story unfold how quickly her attacker has been arrested and brought to court over this crime. Now I actually used to live in Coburg, and I walked down Sydney Road where she was attacked on a daily basis, but it doesn't surprise me that someone could be attacked on that road. But then it doesn't surprise me when anyone is attacked in Melbourne. Anyone from Melbourne might remember when the city trialled a new curfew system a couple of years ago, as an attempt to reduce the amount of alcohol related crimes in and around Melbourne. Violence is inevitable when huge crowds of people gather in small areas and drink alcohol.

Now the thing that really surprises me about this case is that Jill insisted on walking home alone that night. I'm not sure if she thought her close proximity to her home made her safer, or the high levels of traffic, but for some reason she refused a friend's offer to walk her home and paid the ultimate price for it. On the news today a lot of people were saying that they were going to be more vigilant in making sure the women in their families didn't make the same mistake, but I cannot for the life of me understand why people have become so relaxed about personal safety as to think they will be fine walking the streets of Melbourne unescorted at night. And I'm not just talking about women here either. It is not only the fairer sex who are the targets of muggers, murderers and other bad guys these days.

I cannot say that I have never found myself having to walk through the suburbs alone, but I tried not to make a habit of it. One night I was trying to get home from work when I got to the very beginning of Sydney Road and found that all public transport had been shut down from that point forward after a gangland shooting had occurred at the Brunswick Club. I found myself more than 2 km from home in the dark with no choice but to start walking and hope for the best. I decided that I would be safer if I could find someone who was going the same way as I was and ask them to escort me, so I chose a young gentleman I had seen travelling on the same tram as me. He very kindly obliged and walked me all the way to the end of Sydney Road at which point I was only 2 blocks from home and felt safe enough making the rest of the trip on my own. Now I was told afterwards that I had made a foolish blunder by asking some strange man to walk me home, especially as there was a rogue gunman wandering around the streets, and I couldn't guarantee that he wasn't now my escort. But my argument here was given that the gangs of North Melbourne were mostly of Mediterranean descent, my 6 foot tall red headed escort wearing an Akubra hat was the most unlikely candidate I could find. (I'm not kidding you, he was wearing an Akubra in the middle of the city. You couldn't get more country if you tried.) Now I was lucky that my new friend wasn't an opportunist just waiting to take advantage of a young and vulnerable woman, but I felt at the time that having his company was a better alternative to no company at all.

I don't know if my suspicion of the people of Melbourne comes from being a country girl, but mum drummed into all of us the dangers of walking the streets alone at night, to the point that I won't even do it in my home town. Now I live in a very small town, but that doesn't mean that criminals don't live here. And I will always make sure I don't find myself in any positions where I could be in danger. And I will be teaching Miss K the same awareness, because it doesn't matter where you are, you can never be too careful. And if she ever does move to the city, I'll be teaching her my old tricks too, like the home made flame thrower made with a can of deodorant and a lighter. I know this is probably highly illegal, but I would always have my aerosol can in one hand, my lighter in the other, and my hands in my pockets as I walked. I don't even know if it would have worked, and luckily for me I never had to test it, but I always felt slightly safer on my trips.

In the aftermath of this horrible tragedy, there are now people springing up saying that Brunswick is a dangerous town and to avoid it. This will not solve anything, this will in fact only make life harder for the shop owners on Sydney Road. These people rely on the heavy stream of traffic that runs constantly along this road, and the money that they bring with them. In fact it was the security cameras in and around these businesses that helped to identify the man responsible for Jill's murder. (I don't care if people think it will turn this world into Big Brother, there can never be too many CCTV cameras in the city.) Now I am only too familiar with the effect that comments like these can have on areas affected by horrendous crimes, my home town is still trying to drag our name out of the mud after a little boy was killed here over ten years ago. We still get called bogans and other horrible things, and if you tell anyone that you're from here, his name is usually the first thing that they come out with. (To the point that I stopped admitting I came from here for the longest time.) The thing is this was one isolated act performed by one isolated person, but it's the rest of the town that has to live with the reputation of being dangerous. Brunswick is a lovely town full of tonnes of bridal stores (apparently one isn't enough) and other awesome shops, and their owners shouldn't have to suffer because of one dangerous individual.

So while Jill's family come to terms with her tragic end, and the rest of Melbourne also grieve this waste of life there is one very important thing to learn from this, and that is never walk the streets alone at night. There is no such thing as being too cautious, and the more friends you can surround yourself with, the safer you will be.

Well that's my lecture over for another night, I'm off to bed. Stay awesome my lovely readers, and more importantly, stay safe.
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