First published in Hamilton News 14 December 2018
She should have been safe, but she wasn’t. That’s the message our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern relayed to Grace Millane’s family on Monday as her suspected murderer faced court. The outpouring of sorrow, grief and guilt from Kiwis led to two candlelight vigils being held in Hamilton and throughout the country on Wednesday, and in true 2018 fashion a torrent of attention on social media focused on how this could happen here.
I found it hard not to think back to the case of Margery Hopegood who unfortunately found a similar fate here in Hamilton in 1992, days after arriving in the country. It reminds me that she should have been safe, but wasn’t. We should all be safe, but aren’t. It’s a reminder to us all that Aotearoa has an secret uglier than our less than 100% pure image – which is our rate of physical and sexual violence towards women. I feel compelled to discuss this today due to #notallmen trending online. No, it’s not all men. But, it’s too many men, and this is one instance where you don’t get the luxury of putting up a wall to deny blame. We all have to take responsibility for this.
Whenever we read an article about violence towards women there is an element of victim blaming. Why was she travelling solo? (How dare she be independent). We check what she was wearing in her last photo. (Skirts a little too high, Dear). We give well intentioned warnings to our daughters to, keep a phone with them, not drink too much and stay with friends. What we don’t do is spend enough time telling our boys and men that they have no right to touch a woman without express permission, that “no means no” and that it’s not okay to “keep trying lest she changes her mind”. Violence is never justified. I was pleased to see strangulation and assault towards family members highlighted in the Family violence Act. We don’t spend enough time telling the #notallmen brigade that it would be more useful for them to be pulling up their friends or family members who act or talk out of line. Speak up against the violence. Intervene.
If you find yourself wanting to direct your anger and sorrow anywhere – it should be at changing our culture that is currently accepting violence towards women. We all have a responsibility to keep women like Grace safe, our daughters safe, my daughter safe.