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Why are the police victim blaming following Masa Vukotic’s stabbing?

Another woman has lost her life to violence. Seventeen-year-old Masa Vukotic was walking through Koonung Creek Linear Reserve in Victoria when she was brutally attacked, stabbed and murdered.

But instead of the focus being on why this occurred — why women are the victims of violence at the hands of men all too often, what steps can be taken to stop men from brutally attacking, beating and killing women — the focus has been put on Vukotic. Why she was walking alone. Why she was wearing headphones. Why she wasn’t paying attention to her surroundings. Why she wasn’t more cautious.

Following Vukotic’s death, Victorian detective inspector Mick Hughes took to ABC radio to advise people, “particularly females”, about what it means to be cautious and “remain vigilant”, suggesting women shouldn’t be alone in parks. Women should basically stop walking around alone altogether, because by doing that, you’re basically just asking for trouble.

Hughes later took back his comments, saying what he actually meant was that women should walk in packs — you know, safety in numbers.

“But if you’re by yourself you need to be aware of your circumstances and take reasonable precautions,” he said.

“I think it’s a travesty that we have to do that, we should be able to walk anywhere at any time, but reality says that we can’t.”

Can’t we?

I think it’s safe to say women are very familiar with being aware of their circumstances and surroundings, particularly while they’re alone. What woman doesn’t walk home at night wondering if the man who rode by on the bike might come back with threats and physical abuse? What woman doesn’t look over her shoulder when she hears a sound coming from behind as she walks a street alone? What woman doesn’t worry about smiling at strangers while alone at night because they fear that a friendly smile might be taken the wrong way?

Just the other week, my partner came home from work one evening saying he saw a man hunched over on the side of the road. He asked the older gentleman if he was okay. He wasn’t and said he’d pulled a muscle in his back and was struggling to make it back home after his walk. My partner accompanied him home.

I wondered if I, too, would have helped the man. Being aware of my surroundings, being cautious as a lone woman at night, perhaps I wouldn’t have. And how sad that is.

I’ve often worried that being a woman puts me in a compromised position. Being a woman, alone, at night, even more so. Women are vigilant, cautious and careful. By our very nature, we are forced to think of our safety at all times of the day. And despite that, despite the precaution, the foresight and the vigilance, women are still killed.

No matter how well-intentioned Hughes’ remarks were, having a male figure shift the focus from the perpetrator to the victim lets everyone down. Men and women alike. Let’s shift the focus from blaming the victim to the perpetrator and pinpointing why violence like this happens in the first place and how to stop further violence against women like this from occurring.

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