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Eurydice Dixon: grief must be catalyst for change

June 21 2018 By Patty Kinnersly, Our Watch CEO

There is a fog of grief and shock over Melbourne this week, as many of us, in our own ways, grapple with the appalling rape and murder of young comedian, Eurydice Dixon on her way home on an ordinary night in inner city Melbourne.

Walking home Image

For many, it is hugely confronting that this horror could have happened in such a familiar setting, a young woman walking home through a popular inner-city neighbourhood. But this death has also touched many who don’t relate to that neighbourhood, that park or the inner-city comedy scene.

As thousands gather in Princes Park this week in a vigil for Ms Dixon, many thousands more will gather in regional centres such as Ballarat, Warrnambool and Geelong as well as interstate. You don’t need to know inner-city Melbourne to be shaken by this horrendous crime.

What adds so much gravity to the grief and anger many are feeling about this particular murder, is the knowledge that it is not a one-off incident, but part of a bigger picture.

One woman is killed in Australia every week, on average. Ms Dixon was one of 30 women killed already this year. We also know that these murders are the tip of the iceberg that is violence against women – one in five Australian women have experienced sexual violence; and one in three physical violence. 

This violence is perpetrated against women of all backgrounds, including young and old, women of colour, LGBTI women and women with a disability. And we know that Indigenous women experience violence at around twice the rate of non-Indigenous women.

While Ms Dixon was allegedly murdered by a complete stranger, we also know that women are most likely to be assaulted by men who are known to them.

For many reasons, Ms Dixon’s death has become a lightning rod, not only for grief and anger, but also the broader issue of women’s safety and what we, as a whole community, need to do.

In the immediate aftermath of Ms Dixon’s death, there was some ill-advised commentary suggesting women need to be more vigilant and cautious in public places. These comments veered towards victim-blaming and were highly regrettable. 

It is my hope that those who made them have reflected deeply on their implications and learned some important lessons. 

It is also my hope that the public conversation is now moving on, shifting the focus from what women should or shouldn’t be doing, to the deep cultural changes we as a community need to make to prevent this violence, and ensure women are safe, wherever they are.

We know, from a huge body of highly respected research, including the work of Victoria’s Royal Commission into family violence, that if we are to prevent these crimes, we must address the power imbalances, attitudes and behaviours that drive violence against women in the first place.

Many have pointed out the similarities between the murder of Ms Dixon and the 2012 rape and murder of Jill Meagher in Brunswick, which sparked a ground swell of public outrage that women were still so unsafe on our streets.

In the years since Ms Meagher’s death much work has been done by many organisations to address the underlying drivers of violence against women. 

In the community’s response to this latest horror we can see evidence that some progress has been made. While it was sickening to see the vandalism of the monument to Ms Dixon, I believe this is a tiny minority of hate. Overwhelmingly, there is a deeper and greater understanding that the solution to improving women’s safety is not more police or better lighting, and it’s certainly not women staying home. 

We are starting to hear far more that the focus must be on changing men’s behaviour, not women’s. 

Many people are putting this incident into a social context – making critical connections to the bigger picture of men’s violence against women and pointing to the need to address the underlying social norms and attitudes that continue to drive this violence.

At Our Watch, we are working in our schools, universities, workplaces, sporting codes and local communities to challenge any condoning of violence, to shift disrespectful and controlling attitudes, and to challenge gender inequality. We are also working with the media to improve the way gendered violence is reported.

Some progress has been made, but the horror of Ms Dixon’s death confronts us all with the need to keep working to address the deeply ingrained attitudes about women that drive this unacceptable violence. We must all play a role in changing the conversation.

This piece was originally published in The Ballarat Courier.