Being alone in parks doesn’t harm women

“I suggest to people, particularly females, they shouldn’t be alone in parks – I’m sorry to say that. That is the case” – Homicide squad Detective Inspector Michael Hughes, Victorian Police.

On March 17th 2015, a 17 year old woman was killed in a suburban park, not far from her home.

It doesn’t matter that she was alone. It doesn’t matter if it was dark (it wasn’t). It doesn’t matter if she was wearing headphones. She was killed by a man who decided to kill her.

In his comments to the media, Victorian Police homicide squad Detective Inspector Michael Hughes indicated that women shouldn’t be alone in parks if they want to stay safe. He later claimed, following widespread criticism, that he didn’t actually say that but the audio is there. He absolutely, 100% certainly did say it.

The Detective isn’t alone in his silly statements. I’ve previously written about Acting Inspector Dan Richardson of the New South Wales police, who described the violent stranger rape of a woman as an “unfortunate reminder for people to avoid walking alone” and stating that “it might have helped if a different route was taken”.

I could write again and again about the statistical futility of risk reduction messages. I could point out that I’m more likely to be harmed by a male that I know, in my own home, than by a stranger in the park. But people – the police included, apparently – will continue to tell us that if she hadn’t been alone, she might have been safe; if she’d just walked a different way, she might have been safe.

But here’s what they’re forgetting: women already do alter their behaviour to try to ensure their personal safety.

And they still die. They still get raped. They still get assaulted.

Ask any woman to list the things they do to “keep themselves safe” and I guarantee it will look pretty much like my list:

  • If possible, avoid going out after dark,
  • Avoid making eye contact,
  • If I have to be walking alone and there’s not a lot of people around, make a phone call so I have someone to talk to, or at least pretend to be on the phone,
  • If I have to be walking alone and it’s not dark outside, wear headphones to block out the street harassment,
  • Ensure my mobile, keys, perfume or anything that could possibly be used in self-defence is within reach at all times,
  • If I’m walking alone and someone else is walking too close to me, cross the street,
  • Take particular note of what that person walking near me looks like – clothing brands, heights, weight, other identifying features,
  • If I am out late, I don’t catch a bus. I have to take a taxi, and I take note of the registration number and the driver ID.

It’s exhausting just thinking about it, but these are the things that I, and I’m guessing millions of other women, do on a daily basis. Consciously or not, I adhere to most of those goddamn safety messages. A lot of women do.

So, Detective Inspector Michael Hughes, to you and anyone else that wants to keep reminding us that women just have to bear some of the responsibility for their own safety, I want to say this:

We already place limits on ourselves.

We already restrict our movements.

We already stop ourselves from living life the way we want to, the way we should be able to.

And we’re still being raped. We’re still being murdered.

Women aren’t the problem here.

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