Category Archives: Women

“I Promise This To You, Sophie Collombet.”

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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.

Sophie Collombet

Sophie Collombet

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.

Sophie Vigil

Rest in Peace Sophie – Candle-lit Vigil for Sophie on Thursday Night

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.

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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?

Listen Up. I Deserve to Be Heard.

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BY ABBY MAC

To be honest, I am quite slack at this blogging business. I relish the stages where I want to publish an update everyday and my post-it note wall is spewing with ideas and then there are the miserable phases where I don’t post for months (note: this post is the first one in almost five months). Now, don’t get me wrong. My intermittent periods of posting and then not posting are not driven by my desire to post. Not. At. All.

I always want to post, though at times my want is stronger than at others. The level of my posting is mostly dictated by the time I have available.

Currently, it is holidays so my post rate will quadruple. During school times my posts tend to dwindle off because Growing Pains ever so slowly dwindles to the very bottom of my “To-Do” list and on very, very rare occasions do I reach anywhere close to the end of the list.

However, what always draws be back to this blog is not primarily an abundance of time that I am gifted with. It’s the fact that without this blog I don’t have a voice greater than my home, school or friends. My voice can’t be heard, or it is limited, without this platform which I can vent, rage, embrace, love or call for change. I am constantly brought back to this blog because with Growing Pains, I can be heard by anyone, anywhere and at anytime. And, this excites me and is empowering.

Today, I opened up my computer to write after reading stories such as the refugee who walked free from child kidnapping due to “cultural differences” and saw no time in prison after the molestation of a child. Or, when the hair-removal company, Veet, published ads claiming that an unshaven woman becomes a “man”.

So, whilst I sat and read articles like the above, I became outraged and felt so small. How could I – a young woman who lives in tiny Suburbia and hasn’t yet even had the chance to vote – change all these wrongs which infiltrate our world? Then I realized, not every change-maker has started with a voice which can be heard by the many people who populate our world.

Nelson Mandela did not begin with a voice, Gloria Steinem was not listened to and Martin Luther King Jr was oppressed due to the colour of his skin, but still, these people have all accomplished the greatest of greats and shaped history like few before us.

Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem raised her voice for the women’s movement in the 1970s.

I am lucky for the fact that I have this platform – the Internet – to express my opinion and not fear extreme penalty for telling the world.

Now, I vow, that no matter how far down the “To-Do” list my blog sits, I will write. I will write not for fame or money or glory, but because I deserve to be heard and my blog, is where I can be.

How do you use your voice to speak up? Do you sometimes feel silenced?

Being Careful: It’s Not Victim-Blaming

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BY ABBY MAC

After recent tumultuous events involving women being violated, hurt and even murdered, a fight for women, but not limited to, to be safe on our streets, has ignited.  People from all ages, no matter what their gender should be allowed to walk down the streets at any time of night, by themselves wearing whatever clothing they choose and not be frightened of predators.  As women, we should be allowed to feel safe walking wearing high heels and a skirt, at 11:00 p.m. down a shadowy alley.  That would be wonderful.  I would never feel afraid again.  However, expecting this is unrealistic.

Girl Alone

We live in a world with many positive aspects and many rapidly improving negatives, from the fight for gender equality to environmental considerations.  We are constantly changing and with these changes, I enjoy seeing parts of our world blossom.  And as much as I would like to add to the list, women feeling comfortable on weird streets late at night, I can’t because it’s simply not true.  Sure, there might be some exceptions to this rule but generally, I stress this generalisation, I would be called a liar. 

We see horrifying stories flash on our television screens describing the despicable acts committed to women whilst trying to walk home or to their parked car.  We are then reminded of the reassuring statistics such as that it is more likely than not that, that women will sexually assaulted a male they know than a stranger.  80% of sexual assault victims know their perpetrators (Better Health Channel).  We are then falsely placed in a sense of security.  Why?  Because there is still that chance that we can be hurt by a strange man on the street.  True, right?

Being oblivious to the fact that you can still be attacked by a strange man is surely just being ignorant?  There are tips my mum and other adults have given to try and be safe on the street like holding the sharpest key between my fingers, how to stop and quickly defend myself against attacks, not wearing high heels and if I am, how to use them and other implements as weapons.  I know, I know.  Some may say slightly over the top, however, it is being equipped with the best possible plans of attacks and knowledge if I was to be put in a similar, unlikely situation.  It is not victim-blaming.  It is being real.  And living in the world that not following safety measures is your way to be a feminist or show the world that not being a victim-blamer, then you’re not being real.  

I am outraged that people suggest that women need to stop going out at night or have a drink in case a man attacks them.  There is victim-blaming.  This is where the line stops, where people suggest it’s the women that need to change than the indescribably contemptible men who commit such acts.  That is victim-blaming.  Being careful is not. 

Mia Freedman, author of mamamia.com.au, conducted a controversial interview with feminist and fellow author Caitlin Moran about the idea of victim-blaming, where the real and on-line world was erupted by their thoughts.  Outraged by their opinions.  Criticising their positions as feminists for their comments.  Here is part of the interview:

Mia and Caitlin

Mia Freedman and Caitlin Moran

“M: There was a very tragic case in Melbourne recently, about an Irish girl who was walking home from a bar, and who was married and lived 800 metres from a bar, and was walking home and was just randomly abducted and raped and murdered. And it’s really been one of those watershed moments for the whole country.

There have been peace marches, and reclaim the night marches, because it is that thing that we all fear, a woman walking alone, randomly taken from the streets, and it’s really divided a lot of women. Because there have been those who have said, “don’t blame the victim, we need to be free to walk the streets at any time, it’s men who need to be taught not to rape and murder.”

And of course it should never be about victim blaming but I worry about the idea of saying to women “don’t change your behaviour, this is  not your problem!”. I feel like that’s saying, ”You should be able to leave your car unlocked with the keys in the ignition, or leave your front door unlocked, and expect nobody to burgle you.”

C: Yes. It’s on that basis that I don’t wear high heels – other than I can’t walk in them – because when I’m lying in bed at night with my husband, I know there’s a woman coming who I could rape and murder, because I can hear her coming up the street in high heels, clack-clack -clack.  And I can hear she’s on her own, I can hear what speed she’s coming at, I could plan where to stand to grab her or an ambush.

To be honest, I agree with them completely.  There are definitely times where victim-blaming occurs.  Where people assume that just because a woman gets raped means that she is a slut.  Definitely.  No doubt.  But helping yourself be safe is not.  We don’t live in a perfect world surrounded by perfect people who all want the best for us, so we need to stop treating it that way.  Not recognising this is simply lying to yourself.  It’s not blaming the victim.  It’s helping you not become the victim.

What is your perspective on victim-blaming?  Is being safe victim-blaming?