World News

Are Women Responsible for Their Own Safety? Australians Point Fingers

Posted June 18, 2018 2:05 p.m. EDT

MELBOURNE, Australia — Thousands of people gathered for a vigil Monday at the Melbourne park where less than a week ago a young comedian was raped and murdered, a crime whose grisly details have gripped Australia and renewed a national conversation about violence against women.

The vigil at Princes Park was one of several held across Australia to remember the aspiring comedian, Eurydice Dixon, 22. Her body was discovered Wednesday morning on a soccer field there, just hours after she left a bar where she had performed to walk home alone.

Within 24 hours of her death, Jaymes Todd, 19, turned himself in to police and was quickly charged with her rape and murder.

Dixon’s death became a feminist cause célèbre after some women accused authorities of suggesting that women were responsible for preventing attacks against them.

After the attack, police in the state of Victoria had urged residents to be aware of their surroundings and take precautions while out late at night.

“The message we would provide to all members of the community is to take responsibility for your safety,” Superintendent David Clayton of the Victoria Police said at a news conference. “Make sure people know where you are, and if you’ve got a mobile phone carry it, and if you’ve got any concerns at all call police.”

Clayton’s comments were seen by some as unfairly blaming Dixon — who was carrying a cellphone at the time — for her own death.

“We get told all the time that we have to be the ones that have to be situationally aware — that we are the ones that have to protect ourselves,” said Tiara Shafiq, one of the vigil’s organizers.

“Most of us are already doing those things. Eurydice was texting a friend right before she was attacked,” Shafiq said. “There’s not as much attention being placed on the perpetrators, being placed on people to not rape and not attack people.”

She added, “Every time this happens, there’s the statement about how women should be more careful, and we’re just tired of it.”

In a Facebook post last week, Daniel Andrews, premier of the state of Victoria, appeared to distance himself from the language used by police.

“Our message to Victorian women is this,” he wrote. “Stay home. Or don’t. Go out with friends at night. Or don’t. Go about your day exactly as you intend, on your terms. Because women don’t need to change their behavior. Men do.”

Patty Kinnersly, chief executive of Our Watch, a Melbourne-based nonprofit that advocates for women and children, said that the conversation had moved on to the causes of such violence.

“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 attitudes and behaviors that drive violence against women in the first place,” she said.

Vigils were organized in parks across Australia’s major cities, and in several rural centers. In Canberra, the capital, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the opposition leader Bill Shorten attended a service at Parliament House.

As the vigil at Princes Park began, the Melbourne Town Hall was aglow in orange, the official color of the United Nations’ Unite to End Violence Against Women campaign.

While some saw Dixon’s killing as an occasion to discuss the country’s response to violence against women, other activists noted that her death probably would have gone largely unnoticed had she not been white. Some research suggests that Indigenous women are up to 80 times as likely to experience violence as other Australians.

The Princes Park vigil for Dixon appeared to draw a crowd of several thousand. Most stood silently, clutching candles at their chests.

Becky Schrederis and Laura Summers, who attended, said they had walked their dog through the park for six years.

“A woman should be allowed to walk alone, and not be attacked,” Summers said.

“People are sick and tired of it,” Schrederis said. “People should have freedom to walk around as they wish.”