Article by Marissa Calligeros /
The Age /
March 20, 2015 /
Click here to view original /
Victoria’s Minister for Women has criticised comments made by the homicide squad chief that women were not safe alone in parks after the killing of Melbourne schoolgirl Masa Vukotic.
The public, especially females, should be cautious following the brazen stabbing of a teen in Doncaster, Victoria Police homicide squad boss Mick Hughes tells ABC radio.
Homicide squad chief Detective Inspector Mick Hughes told ABC Radio National on Thursday the “chilling” case had highlighted the need for people, particularly women, to remain vigilant.
Masa was stabbed to death in a park, less than a kilometre from her Doncaster home, in Melbourne’s east, about 6.50pm on Tuesday.
The 17-year-old Canterbury Girls’ Secondary School student had been out on her evening walk in Koonung Creek Linear Reserve. She was found injured at the base of a footbridge near Stanton Street and Heyington Avenue.
“I suggest to people, particularly females, they shouldn’t be alone in parks,” Inspector Hughes said.
“I’m sorry to say that is the case.”
But Minister for Women and Minister for Prevention of Family Violence Fiona Richardson said on Thursday that the community’s focus should be on stopping offenders, not the behaviour of victims.
“Detective Inspector Hughes undoubtedly has the best interest of women in mind and made comments on radio this morning out of care and concern for women who are all too often victims of crime,” she said.
“However, hearing a senior police officer say that as a woman, you are not safe going about your leisure activities or daily business, is a sad indictment on our society.
“The community conversation needs to be about stopping men from committing these terrible crimes in the first place, not just about women needing to protect themselves.”
Asked at a later press conference after a man handed himself over to police in relation to Masa’s killing, Inspector Hughes refuted that police were victim-blaming by telling women not to walk alone.
“We’ve never actually said that,” he said.
He encouraged people to walk together, “females” to walk together.
“But if you’re by yourself you need to be aware of your circumstances and take reasonable precautions. I think it’s a travesty that we have to do that, we should be able to walk anywhere at any time, but reality says that we can’t,” he said.
Earlier, Inspector Hughes told the ABC that said people needed to be more security conscious, particularly when travelling alone.
“We just need to a be little bit more careful, a little bit more security conscious and we, as a public, need to look after each other,” he said.
Inspector Hughes urged girls and women to jog with a friend if possible, or at least remain aware of their surroundings.
“Jog with a friend, make sure your family know your route, exercise in daylight if you can, if you see any suspicious activity please ring triple-0 [and] never be embarrassed … just be aware of your surroundings,” he said.
Masa was wearing headphones and may not have heard her attacker approaching, but Inspector Hughes said that should not have made her more vulnerable.
“People should be allowed to do that,” he said.
“I don’t think we can live our life in fear. We really just need to look after each other.”
The inspector’s advice that women “shouldn’t be alone in parks” has also been criticised as “victim blaming” by women’s safety advocates.
“This is yet another example on what women need to do to avoid being victims of crime as opposed to what men can do not to commit them,” said Dr Lauren Rosewarne, a Melbourne University academic who has written about fear of crime in public space.
“We’ve seen this every time there’s a public crime; we are always given information about what we need to do as women to stay safe. I’d like to see the debate shifted.”
The Doncaster killing was “an embodiment of our bogeyman fears,” Dr Rosewarne said. “We’ve grown up believing the world is dangerous for women.”
While studies show that what women fear most is rape by a stranger, Dr Rosewarne noted that “it’s the person lying next to you that is most likely to be the perpetrator”.
“Women turn up dead all the time and they haven’t even left their homes,” says sexual violence worker Karen Pickering, one of the founders of the Melbourne Slutwalk.
“The idea that we can somehow change women’s movements and somehow prevent violence against women is just patently false…There are always spikes in self defence classes after brutal murders but it doesn’t protect women. No amount of lighting and CCTV is going to stop men attacking women.”
Family violence featured in a third of all sexual assault and related offences in Victoria in 2014 (3282 of 9806 offences), according to police statistics released Thursday morning, and almost half of all assault offences (17,544 of 37,639 offences) .