Once again, a young woman was attacked while making her way home. Aiia Masarwe.
This week, Australia was rocked by a another tragic event. The brutal rape and murder of Palestinian exchange student Aiia Masarwe in Melbourne’s North. Once again, a young woman was attacked while making her way home.
Yet as shocking as Aiia’s story is, it is not an isolated incident. News stories just like hers are all too familiar and young women have been warned about them since adolescence. Stories like those of Eurydice Dixon, who was raped and murdered in June last year on her way home walking through a park, or Jill Meagher, who was attacked walking home from a pub in 2012.
But not every case of violence receives the same attention as Aiia. Every week, a woman will be killed by a current or former partner. One in five women have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15. 85% of Australian women have been sexually harassed. Many of these women’s stories do not receive the same attention as Aiia’s but are just as tragic.
Young women across the country hear these stories as cautionary tales about letting your guard down. But Aiia’s story shouldn’t be part of a narrative about the importance of women being constantly on their guard. The safety of women should not depend on their constant vigilance and good luck.
Instead, it should remind us how dire the situation currently is. Now is a moment to reflect on violence against women and how we understand it. Because violence against women is not just a problem for women, it is a problem for society, and it is time for the violent men to be held to account.
It’s important to remember that men’s violence against women is part of a spectrum. While these news stories provide particularly shocking examples of this violence, less visible harm is perpetrated against women every day. Sexual harassment, abuse and stalking happens continuously, and it often happens in silence.
Not all men are violent. Yet, that doesn’t mean those men who aren’t don’t feed into a culture that enables and encourages violent men. Even if you would never actually harm a woman, every man has witnessed a man stepping over a line. It might be a joke that goes too far, a friend that is a little too handsy, or a woman who is a little too drunk to fully consent. Excuses are no longer good enough.
All of these actions normalise a culture of disrespect and violence against women, and it has to stop. Sons cannot continue being raised on the message that it’s okay to disrespect women or that those behaviours are acceptable. It must stop because women should be able to get home at night without fearing for their lives.
All of us have seen inappropriate behaviour towards women and often stayed silent because we couldn’t find our voice. It can be a difficult thing to do. But we have to do better. Women like Aiia, Eurydice and Jill deserve better, as do the countless women who suffer violence without being shown on the news.
Making things better begins with men taking responsibility for their actions and understanding how their treatment of women can reverberate in society. It starts with deciding that we cannot continue to live in a society that consistently marginalising women. It starts with speaking up.
If you or someone you know is in need of support related to sexual assault or domestic violence, please call 1800 RESPECT (737 732). If in danger please, call 000.
Authors are members of White Ribbon Australia’s Youth Advisory Group (YAG). They are passionate about justice, equality and ending men’s violence against women.