Women in public spaces

A couple of weeks ago, 17-year-old April-lee Gillen was found lying on the road bleeding to death from a severe head injury. This came after she had just updated her status on Facebook at 1am which read “Phones on 1 per cent walking from warrawong to berks [Berkeley] and some Asian guy just stopped me telling me to come home with him cause it’s safe and I need help wtf sos”. Police are saying it is likely she has been the victim of a hit-and-run crash.

A particularly concerning element of this story is the public’s reaction this news. NSW Police Force updated this story on their Facebook page and the influx of classist and blatantly victim-blaming comments from the public on the status were absolutely shocking. Many people were quick to question “Why was she even out alone walking at 1am?”, others saying she was probably drunk or high based on her whereabouts, and others calling her foolish for choosing to write a status on Facebook with her 1% phone battery rather than calling someone for help.

My question is why shouldn’t she be out walking freely at 1am and why should we assume she was intoxicated? Would we be saying the same thing if the victim was a male? Would we be saying the same thing if instead of Berkeley (Illawarra), this happened in Double Bay (Syd) or Toorak (Melb)?

Khan et al. (2013) draw on this idea with their article about women not owning the right to access public spaces after dark in India. Whilst gender roles may be different in the public sphere and spaces of India, it is evident with the public reaction to this news story and many others such as the murder of Jill Meagher, that the public sphere is a still well and truly man’s world, with no room for women to be ‘loitering’. Khan et al. uses loitering loosely to define women accessing public spaces freely and for pleasure, without having to justify themselves being out of the home after dark.

The reality is, with the public making such comments and victim-blaming – intentionally or not – it is evident that there is still a need for a woman to be justified for walking the streets late at night. Evidently, there is still a dichotomy regimented in society of good girls versus bad girls; a good girl would be at home at this time and a girl who is not must be up to no good, often presumed to be a sex worker or a lower-class citizen.

There is a need to create a public space that is accessible to women at any time without fearing judgement for having what society deems as shameful or sinful intentions. The existence of such a space would breakdown the dichotomy, and maybe the general public would stop questioning the victim and instead rally in support and question the perpetrator. Just as men feel free to walk home alone at night without fearing judgement, just as guys leave parties alone and don’t have to make their mates promise they will text them when they arrive home safe, women should also have this sense of freedom and comfort in public spaces after dark.

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Khan, Sameera and Phadke, Shilpa. (2013). ‘Where Can We Have Some Fun?’. The Indian Express. http://archive.indianexpress.com/ news/where-can-we-have-some- fun-/1207755/. Accessed April 5, 2014.

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