The Community of Jill

It has been a very sad week in Melbourne.

Last saturday I began to see information shared via social media relating to a local woman going missing on her way home.  On sunday we were seeing images on the news.  By monday, as I drove to work along Sydney Road, Hope Street was sectioned off by the Homicide Police.  Peter and I used to live in Hope Street, but down the other end in West Brunswick.  It began to feel incredibly close to home.  As I drove along, almost every single pole had a 'Have you seen Jill' poster.  I drove past the last two places she drank at late friday night.  Seeing her husband on the news earlier that morning made my heart heavy.

As the week rolled by, more posters were put up and even printed out and placed in people's front windows.  Each news day brought a little more information about her movements on the early hours of saturday morning, walking home from her local pub after drinks with friends.  As I drove to and from work each day, I saw reporters and news crews everywhere.  It felt like driving through a crime scene every day.

On late thursday, news broke that a man had been taken in for questioning.  On friday morning, as I lay in bed listening to my clock radio, the news announced that Jill's body had been found.  Everyone's worst fears had been realised.  She was randomly abducted less than 500 metres from her home, raped and then murdered.  My heart grew heavier still.  The person charged by police was from Coburg, the suburb I live in now.

I chatted with a friend during the week, and she said that the 'hood doesn't feel safe right now.  She reminisced about when she still lived at home and caught the train home late.  Her parents would tell her off for walking home alone at night from the train station.  They told her what my parents told me..."it's not that we don't trust you, it's everyone else we worry about".  We talked about going out when we were in our 20's.  I used to walk back streets of Fitzroy in the early hours to my car alone.  However, I remembered tips about keeping myself safe.  I always walked 'with purpose', alert to everything around me with my car key firmly protruding between my fingers.  This way, if I needed to punch someone I had a ready made knuckle duster.  I have in more recent years walked over a kilometre home from the tram late at night after drinks with friends, when I lived in Essendon.

I guess part of what has been so distressing is the randomness of the attack.  It could have been any one walking home alone.  Danger doesn't always come with a red flashing light.  It can be an average person walking down the same street as you.  There has been discussion regarding the increase of CCTV on busy streets.  I have to admit I don't think this will solve anything.  It may help with burglaries or assaults outside pubs, but it wont stop sexual assaults or murders.  Not everywhere can be covered with cameras, and these types of offences are likely to happen down dark out of the way places.  CCTV may help piece together what happened after the worst has happened.  But it won't stop it.

The reality is that terrible things happen to people.  I don't think our conversations should be about the offenders, because in all likelihood there will always be people drawn towards rape and murder.  I think the discussion should be about our own personal safety.  There has been a huge outpouring of grief by the community.  There was a candlelight vigil in Sydney Road on friday night and flowers left in a couple of places along Jill's walk home.  Today there was a massive Peace Walk with people taking a stance on violence towards women.  I hope this gets people thinking about their own safety.  Perhaps next time we will take up an offer for someone to walk us home rather than going it alone.  Perhaps we won't walk down industrial streets late at night.

I remember when the AIDS epidemic hit in the 80s and 90s.  There was saturation advertising about safe sex and the Grim Reaper ad caused a stir on telly.  This had a huge impact on the spread of the disease as a generation of us grew up aware.  I have heard recently that AIDS diagnosis is on the rise, and of course I realised that a new generation of people, who may not have been born when those ads were on TV, are the one's being sexually active.  It made me think that we need to keep having particular discussions with each generation.  We need to harness what has happened this week and turn it into people focussing on their personal safety.  It is an unfortunate reminder, but perhaps the memory of Jill will ensure we all keep an eye out for friends and on other members of our community.  Maybe what happened to Jill will be a difficult, heartbreaking wake up call...and the beginning of awareness and education for the next generation.


Tim said…
Hi Andy.
Thanks for writing about these issues and so thoughtfully.

Andy said…
Thanks Tim. It's just a nice exercise to get things out of my head. But I do think it's an important issue and many of us are talking about safety and sharing tips and experiences. It's a good thing.

Thanks for commenting. : )

Popular Posts