When Courtney Herron become the 20th (known) Australian woman to be murdered this year by a man, the country stopped to listen. Another woman walking alone at night through a park who was viciously beaten and killed, for what?
As Australian women and their allies mourn the death of yet another innocent life, one thing has has been poignantly different in the response to the deaths of former women, including Eurydice Dixon. Unlike in 2018, when police urged women to be “aware of their surroundings” when out alone at night, this week’s response from authorities has actually acknowledged the role men play in, well, when men kill women.
Speaking to the media in light of Herron’s murder, Victoria’s Assistant Police Commissioner Luke Cornelius straight away confirmed these were the actions of a man — not a woman who failed to be vigilant about her surroundings.
“This is about men’s behaviour, not about women’s. For me as a man, it gives me pause for reflection, about what is it about our community that makes men think it’s okay to attack women.” he said. Groundbreaking? Not at all, but it does shine a light on what we’ve come to expect from the police after horrific crimes like these occur. So that when women aren’t blamed for the actions of men it really does seem groundbreaking.
Have we reached a turning point? Assistant Commissioner Cornelius’s statement might indeed signal an era of change for women’s issues — despite the recent election retaining a government with not the best track record for women’s issues — and confirm that traditionally problematic institutions like the police are indeed changing their tide on victim blaming. A minor shift, but a start nevertheless.
In early May, the Coalition government pledged $328 million over three years for new domestic violence funding, a promise which Prime Minister Scott Morrison says will be the “the largest ever commonwealth contribution” on the issue since 2013. With particular focus on prevention, the grant zeroes in on stopping the problem at its root: men.
And while it certainly isn’t enough money to make the changes needed to bite the issue head on — many domestic violence experts would agree that women need shelters and immediate support before they tackle education — it does perhaps suggest a shift in attitude, especially from a conservative cabinet. And after hundreds of thousands of cases of domestic violence per year, it’s about time.
Courtney Herron’s murder might have gotten the police to admit men’s wrongdoing, but there’s still a long road ahead before we see significant change in the way the establishment treats the lives of women. Without also changing the way we serve homeless women, refugee women, women victims of sexual violence and our Indigenous women, we unfortunately have a long way to go before this country starts to acknowledge the scary, sometimes abhorrent ways in which women are treated in Australia. Because if the police stating facts seems trailblazing, I don’t have much hope for what’s to come next.
If you are impacted by assault, domestic or family violence call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. If you need help immediately, please call 000.