* On Thursday evening this week, 17-year-old Doncaster schoolgirl Masa Vukotic was stabbed to death whilst walking through a park near her home wearing headphones. The man who allegedly killed Masa is now in custody.
I grew up in Doncaster. It’s a beautiful leafy suburb in Melbourne’s east, full of families and people of all ages. The quiet parks and creeks were my backyard.
At 17, I walked my dogs when I wanted to avoid doing the dishes. I walked to keep my mind off my VCE literature essays. I walked deep into the bushes one afternoon and smoked my first cigarette. I never feared for my life. Was I lucky? I don’t think so. I think I was like every young woman who should be free to enjoy the outdoors. I wasn’t totally naïve and knew bad things ‘could’ happen, but that didn’t stop me plugging in my sweet silver disc-man and heading out for an hour alone.
I still walk every day. I do laps of the park at sunrise and walk the back streets on my way to work. I don’t think I’m lucky when I make it home unscathed. I SHOULD make it home alive. When a woman gets back from a jog, her first thought shouldn’t be ‘Whew, I made great time today and bonus! I wasn’t raped.’ By going outside, I am not asking for trouble. When I leave the house, my expectation is that I will be safe.
Of course, I’m realistic and I know the world we live in. I look over my shoulder regularly and hold my car keys in the ‘stabby grip’ that we’ve been taught. I’m never out alone at night and always send ‘home ok’ texts. I feel painfully overprotective of my fun-loving son and my teenage nieces, who are keen runners. I worry desperately about my mum walking to the bus stop after work.
I know exactly what this weekend will be like. For every parent who watches their teenage girl bounce out the front door, head down, scrolling through her Spotify playlist. For every parent who waits up. For every parent who can’t say with GPS accuracy where their daughter is right now. I know it’s completely and utterly terrifying.
I don’t know how we move forward from here. But locking ourselves away doesn’t make any sense. At 17, I had no fear. And now at 30, even with everything I’ve seen and heard, I am still going to expect to be safe in my own goddamn backyard. I’ve walked this entire city with my two-year old, who loves nothing more than going for a big lazy stroll, and I want him to grow up in a world where women aren’t consumed by fear.
So this morning, I put Uptown Funk on repeat, held my head up high and went out for a walk. Because I have to. Because I want to. Because it’s a bloody beautiful day outside. I told myself ‘I am not afraid’. And I’ll keep telling myself that until I believe it.