It’s difficult to respond to cases such as these, not least because of the perceived risk of jeopardising any legal proceedings. Ultimately, the facts of the case will be determined by the courts.
The knowledge that another man has allegedly chosen to brutally end the life of a woman is difficult to stomach, particularly when the follow-up narrative continues to focus on how the rest of us can “exercise caution” to prevent such things from happening.
Shortly after Eurydice was found, and before police arrested the suspect, Local Superintendant David Clayton warned, “This is an area of high community activity… so just make sure you have situational awareness, that you’re aware of your surroundings.”
Less than 24 hours later, Homicide Squad Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper repeated the sentiment, telling a media conference, “People need to be aware of their own personal security. That’s everywhere. If people have any concerns at any time, call triple-0. We would much rather have too many calls than too few.”
I’m mindful of the grief Eurydice’s family and friends will be feeling now, and I just want to put this out there: it is not a lack of “situational awareness” that has ended the lives of so many women, it is people who make conscious choices to exercise extreme violence against them.
I didn’t know Eurydice, but I have no doubt at all that she had “situational awareness” and an awareness of her own personal security, because she was a woman who lived in our world and, as such, had been learning those infuriating lessons since she was a young child.
I appreciate that cases like these must be deeply distressing to work on, but advice like this shows just how excluded the realities of women continue to be for many of those working in law enforcement.
It’s nice to think we could call triple-0 if we have “any concerns at any time”, but that would involve unlearning everything we’ve been taught about our apparent tendencies to “overreact” to situations that put us on edge.
The language used towards women when we exercise caution is contradictory at best and disdainful and mocking at worst. Exercise caution, but stop being so paranoid. Be prepared for danger, but don’t treat individual men like they might be a threat to you. Don’t put yourselves in harm’s way, but quit acting hysterical about every little shadow that crosses your path. Be wary of strange men, but don’t you dare be wary of me.
It’s little wonder we’ve learned to question our own instincts and sense of personal risk. How can we possibly be expected to guard against threats when we’re straining so hard to even see them under the dim glow of the gaslights?
And, yet, despite the distrust so often bred in us when we recount our brushes with danger, women still understand this reality. These reminders of our vulnerability teach us nothing new. The repeated entreaties for women to somehow become “more aware” of the violence that is routinely perpetrated against us not only show a remarkable level of ignorance about our own implicit understanding of the world, they also continue to redirect the focus away from where it must be trained: men’s violence and the misogyny that leads some of them to end women’s lives.
It isn’t up to women to modify our behaviour in order to prevent violence from being enacted against us, it’s up to society to work together to dismantle misogyny and the particular kind of male rage that informs these acts of aggression.
Sexual violence and homicide might be the extreme end point of it, but the spectrum they sit on stretches right back to “harmless” casual sexism, the rape “jokes” and threats that proliferate online and the attitude expressed towards women on a daily basis by groups of men who’ve been socialised to view themselves as superior. These toxic behaviours don’t manifest one day out of nowhere. They are cultivated.
Abusive, violent men are not unavoidable weather patterns who tear through our natural environments without warning. We don’t just have to batten down the hatches and ride out the storm, convinced that nature is an invincible force we’re powerless to resist. Because, even if we do manage to get ourselves into a protected bunker, the storm is still going to hit someone. The narrative of prevention as women’s responsibility does nothing to stop sexual violence and homicide. At best, all it might do is direct that rage towards someone else.
As a society, why are we not more collectively interested in figuring out why so many men seem to hate women so much that violence meted out by their hands is such a common story for so many of us? Why do people not ask better questions about their sons, brothers, friends and colleagues who appear to be showing anti-social or outwardly aggressive views towards anyone who doesn’t look like them? Like many women, I’m scared to live in a world where we can’t walk home at night without wondering if it might be the last time – but I’m not as scared of this as I am knowing the world itself seems content to make that our problem.
Eurydice Dixon was a 22-year-old woman walking home after work, something so many of us do every day. She had a family, friends and colleagues who loved her. According to police, a person chose to take that away from her, and did it violently, wilfully and hatefully. The motivations for that kind of behaviour won’t go away, even if women do.
Don’t let another woman robbed of her life be turned into a cautionary tale just because the people who have the power to change things think it is easier to keep women afraid than it is to make men accountable.
By way of contrast Victoria’s Premier has paid tribute to Ms Dixon, saying men needed to take responsibility for a “culture of violence” towards women.
Daniel Andrews published a series of tweets this afternoon saying women were not responsible for the decisions of men who attack them.