A week ago, the body of Courtney Herron was found in a park down the road from where I live in Melbourne. She was not far from another park where Eurydice Dixon was murdered in June last year. In between those deaths, two other women were killed in a public space in this city: Aiia Maasarwe and Natalina Angok.
(I won’t name their killers because they don’t deserve the notoriety that may well have been their sole motive for the attacks.)
Each time in the past year that I woke up to the news of another murder of a lone woman, I wondered if it could have been me. Like many of my female friends, I read carefully of their last actions — as if to somehow measure the distance between their horrific deaths and my own personal safety.
Eurydice was raped and killed by a random stranger in a park where I attend dancing classes. It is a place I walk through every week — although now at a brisk pace, without my headphones in my ears, and gripping my house keys in one hand.
But she was crossing the park well after midnight, I reassure myself. I would never do this. If I was her, I would have taken the long way around and I would have been safe.
Except… I have crossed a park at all hours of the night many times in my life. If it wasn’t for Eurydice, I probably would have walked through a park again at 2am, thinking that nothing could possibly go wrong on that last stretch of a few hundred metres.
When Aiia was raped and killed walking the few blocks home from her tram stop, a terrifying sense of déjà vu clutched Melbourne. Another young woman’s life was brutally cut short by a man she didn’t even know — and this time, women couldn’t console ourselves with the cold thought:
At least it wouldn’t happen to me.
Because Aiia was doing everything right. She wasn’t cutting across a park and putting herself in danger. (Didn’t Eurydice KNOW better?) She wasn’t coming home that late. (Why was Eurydice out at 2am anyway?) Aiia was on the phone — and letting someone know where we are is supposed to somehow form an invisible barrier between our bodies and the men who want to harm them.
She acted exactly the way we were all taught to. But she is still dead.
Only a few months later, Natalina died in the crowded city centre. Somewhere everyone of us has passed through at some point. We have learned not to walk through parks or down empty streets but now we’re told we have to be careful in places that are full of people too.
But when we found out that it was Natalina’s boyfriend who had committed the horrendous act—the distance that narrowed to a sliver between Aiia and every other woman grew comfortingly wide again . We felt sad and rightly horrified, but somewhere deep down maybe we breathed a collective sigh of relief too.
I don’t have a violent boyfriend so this couldn’t happen to me.
Except… statistically this is, in fact, the most likely to happen to me. These four woman are actually only a fraction of the total 24 murder victims in Australia this year — equating to one tragic death a week. Of those, sixteen are believed to have been killed by a partner or ex-partner.
And then last week, another man took another young life in the most horrific way possible. Much of the media coverage centred on Courtney’s lack of fixed address — allowing women to lengthen even further the thread that ties us to each of these victims.
I will never sleep rough so this can’t possibly happen to me.
Except… I have slept rough, more than once, while broke and overseas, cut off from my family support system. Each time I spent a night on the streets, I never even considered that it might be my last.
The gulf that would seem to divide my life from that of Courtney’s is not nearly as vast as I hope. After all, it is increasingly women who are at risk of homelessness —often living between friends’ couches, hotel rooms, parks and emergency shelters. The person most likely to request homelessness services in the state where I live is female and aged under 35. We may all just be one emergency away from disaster.
Or, for women, one walk through the park.
The reality is, I could have been Eurydice, Aiia, Natalina or Courtney. All of us could. The only thing separating them from any other woman is luck: the wrong time, the wrong place, the wrong relationship. The wrong man.
And what is certain is that one of us will be the next.