Many of you are not Australian so perhaps you are unaware of the murder of Gillian Meagher last year in my home city but if you are Australian or Irish (Jill’s country of origin) you will know every detail of the case. Jill Meagher’s murder touched my city deeply. She was walking home after a few drinks with workmates in Brunswick. The distance was very small (barely a few hundred meters) but after leaving her friends she was brutally raped and murdered by Adrian Bayley and her body was dumped in a shallow grave. A week after her disappearance 30 000 people walked down the main street in Brunswick in her memory and to speak out against violence towards women. To reclaim the streets.
Her murderer turned out to be a man with significant history of sexual violence who was on parole at the time after raping several sex workers. This week he was sentenced to life with a 35-year minimum non-parole period. This is far from the maximum sentence for such crimes.
Her incredible husband, speaking to ABC said this of the sentencing: “I don’t know what the maximum penalty is for if it’s not for that man. I don’t know who else could fit the bill of a maximum sentence for rape than Adrian Ernest Bayley…. This man is unrepentantly evil. He’s been let off too many times by our justice system… It sends out a really dangerous message to society, I think, if you do this. I mean, I’m aware that his previous victims in the previous case before Jill were sex workers and I’ll never be convinced that that had nothing to do with the leniency of his sentence, which as I said, send as very disturbing message. What it says to women is “Be careful what you do, ’cause if we don’t like what you do, you won’t get justice.” And then what it says to people like Bayley is not, “Don’t rape”, but, “Be careful who you rape.””
Tom Meagher. What an amazing man.
In a recent interview, an unnamed stripper whom Bayley used to visit and simulate strangulation on said tearfully that she thinks about “how if it had been me, the publicity wouldn’t have been the same. There wouldn’t have been 30,000 people walking down Sydney Road because of it. There wouldn’t have been this massive uproar about it and trying to find out who it was and trying to find her body and things because there is that attitude that she’s just a stripper, she’s just a sex worker, she’s a slut it doesn’t matter. I’ve thought about that a lot of times.”
I can’t help but think back to Slaughterhouse Five (Kurt Vonnegut, 1969 one of my favourite books in existence) in which a trashy sci-fi writer writes of an alien race who come down to earth and see that the New Testament is full of loops. They can see, with their outsider’s wisdom that the intent of the Gospels is to teach people to be merciful, even to the lowest of the low but, what they really teach is that before you kill somebody, you’d better make sure he isn’t well connected. Christ didn’t look like much but he was the son of the most powerful being in the universe.
So they write us a new gospel. One where Jesus is a total bum with no connections but he says all the lovely, puzzling things he said in the other Gospels. And one day the people amuse themselves by nailing him to a cross and planting the cross in the ground because, well there couldn’t be any repercussions, could there? Jesus was a nobody. The Gospel of the Plumber’s Friends-shaped aliens told us so. But just before Bum Jesus died the heavens opened and there was thunder and there was lightening and the voice of God came crashing down and he said ‘Hey’ and he said he was adopting Bum Jesus as his son and giving him full powers and privileges of The Son of Creator of the Universe. He said ‘Bum Jesus will punish horribly anybody who torments Bum Anybody from now until all eternity.’
It is heartbreaking how little consideration is given to the rape of sex workers. My heart goes out to Tom and Jill’s family but it also goes out to the sex workers, the homeless and the addicts who are seeing this as further proof that nobody cares what happens to them.
We are living in horrifically misogynistic times. Hatred of women is rife. Victim-blaming is still a big part of our culture. In Australia, our female Prime Minister (our first ever) is regularly objectified and sexualised. (If you are not up to date on Australian politics, try googling ‘Julia Gillard menugate’ but, be warned: if you have a moral bone in your body, it will enrage and sicken you.) One in four women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. In America, someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes. A couple of months ago we were visited by a peeping tom. He watched me through my bedroom window until my housemate coming home surprised him and he ran off. That he was getting off on seeing me completely unguarded terrifies me and his sense of entitlement, to invade my home and privacy sickens me to this day. We now have a big padlock on our gate.
Last night, friend of mine told me that she had been having panic attacks all week. She went to her therapist who told her that women all around Melbourne have been exhibiting similar PTSD-like symptoms recently and that she and her fellow therapists have been inundated. The combination of the sexual vilification of our Prime Minister and the sentencing of Bayley filling our papers and news outlets has just reminded women all over the city/country how unsafe we feel. Even the most powerful woman in the country is abused in sexually explicate terms. Whether you disagree with her policies or not, this should be unacceptable. It is shameful. It shames me.
I want to draw your attention to an incredibly important project going on right now on the Internet. It is so timely and so important. These are students from beautiful Oxford University holding up signs explaining why they personally need feminism. Read it and speak up.