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After a company recently released an app that displays the danger spots for women, I think we’re still not understanding the issue.
40 percent of women aged 18-25 have been sexually harassed in the last 12 months. Of course, this figure only represents those who have been brave enough to speak up, and the real figure is likely much higher.
It doesn’t matter where you live; there is no corner of the country that’s safe from this predatory behaviour. Last week in Launceston, a woman was attacked when she was walking the Reedy Gully Track in the Trevallyn Reserve. The reserve is a popular walking track, and was previously considered quite safe, with Launceston Detective Senior Sergeant John Parker saying in a press statement that there had been “no other reports of this type of crime, so we would suggest it’s a spur-of-the-moment attack.” The offender is yet to be caught.
If we’re not safe even in places that we’ve been visiting for years, how are we supposed to leave the house without fear of being attacked? It’s all well and good for the police to issue statements telling us not to be afraid, and that we should feel safe in our environments, but what is actually being done to make this a reality? We host reclaim the park walks, and vigils honouring the victims, but nothing ever changes. Well, maybe not quite. Because we change. We become more scared, more reserved, and sadly, more resigned to the fact that this is our lot in life.
Blind faith is no longer enough. We can’t keep saying it’ll never happen to me, because the statistics say that we’re wrong. But at the same time, why should we be forced off the streets, be made to hide, be fearful that just exercising in the park will get us attacked? Launceston detectives were quick to say that women should try to walk in pairs, but why not focus the attention back on the real problem—the men who can’t keep their hands to themselves?
Plan International released their Free To Be app this week, which pinpoints the experiences of thousands of women in Sydney, Dehli, Lima, Madrid and Kampala on local maps to help create safer and more inclusive environments. The app asked participants to record the locations in which they felt both safe and unsafe. The project identified that in all five cities, boys and men grope, chase, stalk, leer at, verbally insult, and flash girls and young women, and the behaviour is condoned by a society that sees bystanders failing to step in and take action. Because of this “it’s not my place to step in” attitude, women are forced to alter their own behaviour to protect themselves.
Nothing ever changes. We become more scared, more reserved, and sadly, more resigned to the fact that this is our lot in life.
The Free To Be map is being praised for helping to protect us, but why are we not angry that such an app needs to exist in the first place? Instead of talking about where it’s safe for us to walk alone, can’t we have a conversation about the behaviour that led to its need in the first place?
In 2019 we still have political leaders making light of inappropriate touching allegations. We have sporting icons under investigation for sexual assault. Musicians. Actors. Producers. The list of people in positions of power who continue to abuse, harass and victimise women for their own perverse needs is sickening. It is the actions of these weak members of society who are held up on pedestals that are setting the bar for our young boys and men. As long as they continue to get away with it, as long as we continue to sit idly by and not say “it’s not my place to speak up”, we will continue to need an app to show us which streets are safe to walk down.
In more positive news, the Victorian Government this week launched the latest video in their Call It Out campaign which begin in March 2018. The advertisement, designed by Respect Victoria, aims to empower bystanders to call out inappropriate behaviour when they see it.
In an interview with the ABC, Respect Victoria chair Melanie Eagle said: “Personal safety in public spaces is everyone’s business and every traveller and commuter has the right to reach their destination safely.”
Sharing the video on Twitter, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews wrote: “Together, we can change that. How? When blokes stop harassing women, and start respecting women. When blokes stop ignoring this kind of behaviour and start calling it out.”
It’s time to lay the blame back where it belongs—with men who can’t keep their hands to themselves. So whilst I respect the idea behind Plan International’s Free To Be app, I believe the real solution is in more messages like the Call It Out campaign, that will make a real difference and allow women to—one day—be able to walk safely through their local reserve without being sexually assaulted.