- More than 10,000 people piled into a park in Melbourne on Monday evening to honour a woman who was recently murdered.
- Less than a week ago, Eurydice Dixon, a 22-year-old comedian, was sexually assaulted and killed while walking home at night.
- A police chief then said people need to “take responsibility for their own safety” which many saw as victim-blaming.
- Dixon’s death has spurred a wider conversation about changing the social and cultural factors that enable sexual assault.
- Business Insider attended the Melbourne vigil as hundreds more gathered around the country, including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
More than 10,000 people piled into a park in Melbourne on Monday evening to honour a young woman who was recently murdered, a crime which revived the nation-wide discussion on women’s safety.
Eurydice Dixon, a 22-year-old comedian, was sexually assaulted and murdered in just a few kilometres from the CBD as she walked home from a gig some time after 10:30 p.m. last Tuesday.
Dixon walked through Princes Park – a large, well-lit park in Melbourne’s affluent Carlton North suburb – and messaged a friend around midnight: “I’m almost home safe, HBU [how about you].”
Dixon’s body was found in the park’s soccer field around 3 a.m. the following morning. A man was charged with her murder the next day.
— Paula Ferrari (@paulaferrari_oz) June 14, 2018
Following her death, Victoria Police Superintendent David Clayton said the park would receive an increased police presence, but warned that people still needed to “take responsibility for their own safety.”
“So just make sure you have situational awareness, that you’re aware of your surroundings,” Clayton told reporters Thursday. “If you’ve got a mobile phone, carry it, and if you’ve got any concerns, call police.”
But many women in Australia felt the comments amounted to victim-blaming and lacked an acknowledgement of the broader issue of violence against women perpetrated by men. The sense was especially acute since a woman from Sydney, Qi Yu, was also killed in the same week.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that sexual violence is a “global health problem of epidemic proportions.”
According to the WHO, one out of every three women has experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.
It recommends taking major steps to address the social and cultural factors which lead to women being disproportionately affected by sexual violence.
The statistics are especially startling in the US. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 90% of sexual assault victims are women, and an American citizen is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds.
The issue of sexual assault has been highlighted by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. More women than ever are speaking out and demanding social change to prevent sexual assault.
Mourning and frustration inspired many to attend vigils around the country on Monday night.
Organisers of the Melbourne vigil said the purpose of the event was to show support for Dixon’s family, and also reclaim a public space that had been deemed unsafe.
Attendees held a 20 minute silence to remember women who have lost their lives to violence.
Across the country, hundreds came together at similar events.
At a solidarity event in Sydney, attendees read aloud the names of 30 women killed in Australia in the past year, with 30 seconds of silence for each of them. Similar vigils were held in dozens of major cities across the country.
In 2015, more than 1,600 US women were murdered by men.
In the capital of Canberra, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten stood with candles at a memorial event at Parliament House.
“My own boys played soccer on the very oval where some of these scenes have taken place,” Shorten said. “This vigil to me is a commitment to every other Australian woman, that you ought to be safe, and nothing less than that is acceptable.”
Earlier in the day Turnbull said, “This is a heartbreaking tragedy but what we must do as we grieve is ensure that we change the hearts of men to respect women.”
“Women must be safe everywhere,” Turnbull said.
“On the street, walking through a park, in their homes, at work. We need to ensure that we have a culture of respect of women.”
“We’re all feeling collective grieving,” Catherine Holder, 27, of Melbourne told Business Insider.
Holder studied with Dixon at Deakin University, and remembers her as “funny, friendly, and kind.”
She says what happened to Dixon brings attention to women’s issues around the world.
“It’s not just an Australian thing. Australia is pretty safe,” she said. “Women all around the world understand what it’s like to walk around by yourself and never truly feel safe.”
Australia was listed as the world’s safest country for women earlier this year, yet a recent study showed that only 50 per cent of women feel safe walking home alone at night compared to 80 per cent of men.
“I’m so tired of walking with my keys between my fingers when I’m just trying to get home safe,” Karen Eriksen, 22, of Melbourne said.
“Eurydice was the same age as me. I walk through this park all the time at night. There’s no reason why this had to happen to her, but there are reasons why it did happen to her.”
Eriksen said in order to prevent these incidents from continuing, men and women need to work together to create an environment of respect.
“Women need to feel safe everywhere. And men need to help women feel safer.”
“Violence against women is a systematic issue that needs to be addressed,” Glen Prins, 31, of New Zealand told Business Insider.
Thousands of men, women and children silently reflected at the makeshift memorial for Dixon.
“This isn’t just a women’s issues, it’s an everyone’s issue,” Prins said.
“As a gay man, I understand what it’s like to be part of a marginalized group and feel unsafe. I also walk through life knowing that I am privileged as a man who doesn’t have the same concerns as women walking home alone. It feels exhausting.”
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews also spoke out last week on where responsibility for these attacks lie.
“Our message to Victorian women is this: Stay home. Or don’t. Go out with friends at night. Or don’t,” Andrews posted on his Facebook.
“Go about your day exactly as you intend, on your terms, because women don’t need to change their behaviour. Men do.”
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