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How the fate of one woman affected a nation

01.10.2012

You’ve probably heard about Jill Meagher’s disappearance and subsequent murder in Melbourne last week. I’m not going to comment on the details of this case, or pass judgement on the man accused of this crime.

Instead, I’d like to discuss the psychological effect this has had on the public.

The Jill Meagher case has caused a rare and curious shift in the fabric of society, not just here in Melbourne, but across the nation, and even on an international scale. It has elicited such profane responses and intense fury from people who feel vindictive that the authorities have taken to social media in an attempt to protect the judicial process, which hasn’t even begun.

Many current affairs programs and newspapers have reiterated this message. The suspect’s image has been rigorously censored. And the last time I recall anyone requiring such heavy police protection for fear of public retribution was when an arsonist was arrested after the Black Saturday fires of 2009, during which close to 200 people died.

(I’ve even heard rumours that news broadcasters in Victoria have omitted certain details of the Jill Meagher case to avoid impacting upon legal proceedings. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was true – we missed a full season of Underbelly when Carl Williams was before the courts.)

This feels different, though. There’s none of the dread, hyper-alertness or panic that surfaces in times of natural disasters, fatal accidents and gangland killings. Many people feel a personal connection to this case, perhaps because it’s much more intimate. In an age when we’re exposed to endless actual and fictional violence, death, horror and trauma, it’s a wonder that anything can shock or move us at all.

And yet this time, it has. Profoundly.

But why? Why is the public so incensed and affronted by this particular case? Why did thousands gather for a peace march on the street where Jill Meagher disappeared? Why are candles spilling over the steps of the local church? And why are chalk scratchings decorating Melbourne footpaths with messages of love and hope?

Because no matter who we are, all of us are able to ask ourselves, What if? What if it had been my family member or friend? What if it had been me?

Only a few months back, my sister was leaving work at 2:00am on a Sunday morning when a car with covered number plates did a sharp U-turn and pulled up beside her. She screamed out to a friend, who’d walked down an adjacent street moments before. Her friend yelled a reply, spooking the wild-eyed driver and forcing him to flee. My sister was one of the lucky ones, along with numerous other women who’ve escaped similar situations. Jill Meagher wasn’t so fortunate.

From an early age, girls are taught to be careful on the streets. By the time they’re teenagers, most are equipped with a small arsenal of (mostly verbal) defensive tactics. While this latest tragedy has been a horrific reminder of the skills women must acquire to survive, it seems that men are experiencing a greater sense of upheaval. A few steadfast cowards are still resorting to victim-blaming, but the vast majority of men taking part in dialogues concerning this case are questioning their own habits, in particular their treatment of and conduct around women. These discussions reflect a deep-seated male uneasiness, especially now that this behaviour has become the subject of widespread public moral scrutiny.

Let’s hope the sentiments stirred by Jill Meagher’s death are profound enough to affect changes in long-term individual and cultural behaviour.

 

Related articles:

Margin Notes – a male perspective

Joseph Boston – an interesting post about victim blaming

Jill Meagher: What it means – from S.C.U.M. politics

Jill Meagher case: Bolt, Twitter users warned on comment – Crikey article

Catherine Deveny’s If like me you thought your information was inconsequential

Can we please stop the victim blaming? – Daily Life

Updated links: 3 November 2012

A Difficult Story to Tell – by misslisted

How a Woman Who Is Raped Behaves – by temiranir

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. 02.10.2012 10:24 AM

    Fare ye well … Gillian (Jill) Meagher

    I only knew you for 5 days
    Tis but a blinking of an eye
    Who is the lady behind that smile
    Your beautiful image made me cry

    On news you’d vanished without trace
    From what we’d call a safe street
    All of Melbourne united to find you
    Through mouse click or on our feet

    My wife being Irish … close to home
    For I know their gentle touch
    The big heart always willing to help
    We’ll all miss you very much

    To someone else’s tune we dance
    When it’s our time to leave
    Those left behind must find the strength
    Hold on to faith and their belief

    Jill dances with the angels now
    Not hindered by time or space
    The problems of our World left behind
    The future for us all to face

    Goodbye Jill our Irish lass
    May yer fields be green, sky forever blue
    All of Melbourne is richer today
    Because we’ve been touched by you

    Our hearts go out to Tom and family
    For the pain that they must feel
    We send our love and understanding
    Pray that with time they may heal

    I have one simple request right now
    To the angels by your side
    May they take good care of you
    For you carry Melbourne’s pride

    Poetry by Jovo Cirkovic

  2. 16.10.2012 12:16 AM

    What an age we live in…

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