BY ABBY MAC
It’s an odd and near inexpressible feeling to grieve for someone you didn’t know. A someone who you never met or touched, saw or even spoke to. Many might assume that you are being over-sensitive or just wanting to get in on the “action”; to be part of the community mourning if you grieve for this stranger. But, that’s not true for me.
Sophie Collombet was a young woman who travelled from her home country of France to Australia to study Business at Brisbane’s, Griffith University. On March 27, during the late hours of the night, Sophie Collombet was raped and bashed to death, eventually found by a jogger the next morning, at Kurilpa Park in South Brisbane.
I did not know Sophie or have any relation to Sophie, yet Sophie’s death has ripped my heart apart and an immense flood of grief has taken over my body. Pinpointing the exact reasons for my grief are hard but they vary from imagining the terror Sophie was experiencing in the last minutes to possible hours of her life. The fact that she died alone and near the bank of the ominous, Brisbane River. She died with the Brisbane City nightlife buzzing around her, yet no one could save her. Or mostly, that she died hurting all alone or, very potentially, with her evil offender near her.
Thursday night, along with over a thousand people, I walked in the candle-lit vigil from King George Square to Kurilpa Park to mourn, remember and show strength for Sophie and her family and friends. It was emotional. Tears from strangers was normal and once gathered at the park where Sophie was found, the crowd quietly sung “Amazing Grace” for the woman who was stripped of her life, due to senseless and disgusting violence.
Since Sophie’s death, community outrage has grown fierce that Brisbane is not really the safe city precinct which it claims to be on paper. Meena Narayanan, 27, was stabbed to death in Upper Mount Gravatt at the hands of her alleged boyfriend, late last month; Eunji Ban, 22, was a South Korean student studying in Brisbane bashed to death in a Central Brisbane park in November last year and Min Tae Kam, 28, was found in a shallow grave in Algester on December 19, last year.
The records of the above deaths as a result of unprovoked violence, are only some of the deaths which have occurred in Brisbane in the past six months. There are dozens more. What can be identified is that most of the victims are females under 30.
At the vigil for Sophie, I felt such shame as a citizen of Brisbane that just like Eunji Ban, Min Tae Kam and Meena Narayanan – who had all chosen Brisbane to study tertiary education, we had a responsibility to keep them safe. And then I realized, that our responsibility doesn’t just extend to those who come across the seas, but as a city and nation which have a duty to keep all our citizens – whether they be male, female, students, children, the elderly, whoever – safe and not be innocently stripped of their lives.
Many of the deaths have been cases of horrific violence against women committed by absolutely sickening men. The fact about Sophie’s death is that it is not the first of it’s kind, even for Brisbane. Her death was not the first time that a woman was a victim of horrendous violence and yet, our response as a community is similar to the ones before. We mourn, we grieve and we become outraged. We follow the pattern of calling on some sort of justice and methods to fix this violence against women. The same discourse occurred after the terrible tragedy involving Melbourne woman, Jill Meagher, who was raped and then murdered on the 22 September, 2012.
The conversations occurring to stop violence against, in particular, women, involve members of the public calling for more police precence or improved street lighting. Whilst I concede that this form of action is needed and would make some impact, these responses are not the only answers. The increasing cases of violence against women does not have one answer but many, which are hard and not easy. And, that’s very possibly why they aren’t being actioned.
Sophie Collombet’s murderer had an alleged history of mental illness and was homeless at the time, Jill Meagher’s murderer was countlessly released on parole or bail, or served minimum terms for the many incidents where he was convicted of violence against women, including rape. Eunji Ban’s killer, too, has recorded issues with mental health.
What we see is various issues which are already underlying problems in Australian society, yet are not being dealt with, and therefore are having serious and long-term affects in other areas of life. These underlying problems range from poor mechanisms to dealing with mental health, to homelessness, alcohol and drug misuse, unjust sentencing and notably,the perception that violence against women is a second-rate offence.
Again, we can improve lighting and police presence in these risky areas, but until we – as a society – start looking critically at the hard issues facing us, we will continue to see the dreadful ramifications in not only violence against women, but violence against the general community, self-violence, increased suicides and long-term economic effects.
So, I promise this to you, Sophie Collombet. I will never let you have died in vain. Your death and the tragic circumstances involving your death will not go unnoticed and I promise that I will do my very best to change the issues which contributed to your passing. You deserved a hell of a lot more from Brisbane and Australia than what you endured and I promise that I won’t sit in silence. I will yell and scream my loudest until someone else becomes loud with me, and what needs to be changed to prevent deaths like yours, will occur.
This, I promise to you.
Four international students have been killed in Brisbane since November, last year.
What do you think of the circumstances respecting the death of Sophie Collombet? What about the other deaths in Brisbane? How can we – as a society – handle the problems leading to such violence?