On the morning of Saturday 25 May, the body of 25-year-old Courtney Herron was found by dog walkers in a Melbourne park. She died after suffering from a “horrendous bashing”, so bad that a detective on the homicide squad was quoted as saying that “the level of violence involved here was extreme”. A 27-year-old man has been charged with her murder.
We’ve been here before. I’ve had my heart fall into my stomach after reading a headline about a dead woman before. I’ve written this article before.
Courtney Herron is the 20th woman this year to die a violent death in Australia. She was also the fourth woman to be found dead on the streets of Melbourne in the past 12 months. Natalina Angok was found in April. Aiia Maasarwe in January. Eurydice Dixon in June last year. Those names don’t include the women who were murdered behind closed doors or in other parts of the country either. Four women alone meet the criteria of “found in the streets” and “killed in Melbourne”.
One of the main pieces of information being published about Courtney is that she was of “no fixed address”, led a “fairly transient lifestyle”, and ultimately was both couch surfing and sleeping rough. Courtney’s homelessness was something we learned about her almost as soon as we learned her name.
“288k different people turn up to our homelessness services every year. That group is growing by at least 4% a year- Yet nationally there's no plan to tackle affordable housing, social housing for those on lowest incomes & no homelessness strategy.” Jenny Smith #TheDrum #auspol pic.twitter.com/2FZp7jWmyZ
— ABC The Drum (@ABCthedrum) May 27, 2019
According to Homelessness Australia, she was far from alone in this situation. Here are the numbers: at the most recent census in 2016, more than 116,400 Australians were homeless. That’s about 1 out of every 200 people. Of that number, 44% were women, and we know that the fastest growing population of homeless Australians are women over 55.
Particularly vulnerable groups of women are Indigenous women, women with a disability, and women with mental health issues – the latter of which Courtney Herron faced.
The most common reason for women as a whole to be facing homelessness, however, is domestic violence, with over half of women in shelters escaping a violent situation at home.
A lot of discussion has been centred on whether or not we should be talking about Courtney’s housing status at all. A woman has been murdered, who cares if she was homeless or not? Courtney being homeless matters. It matters because it’s incredibly likely she’d still be alive if she wasn’t.
In December 2015 I spoke in the Vic Parliament about men's violence. I took a photo of my murdered sister Niki with me. Women belong in Parliament. Women belong wherever they want to be. They have a right to feel safe at home, and in public.
Sorry we failed you, Courtney Herron. pic.twitter.com/owkIPZd99w
— tarang chawla (@tarang_chawla) May 27, 2019
With homeless shelters unbelievably overcrowded and struggling as it is, and the Federal Government delivering a 2019 Budget that “blatantly neglected the needs of thousands of people who are homeless”, there are very limited options for people caught in these situations.
In the words of Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper: “This was a young woman who had challenges in life and we as a community should be protecting these people, and we didn’t. We failed.”
Last week, the Victorian Government committed to building 1,000 public housing units by 2022, but that is too late for Courtney.
Amongst the overwhelming outpouring of love for Courtney, there are some comments online blaming her for her own death, just because she was homeless. “Druggie and homeless. Enough said,” one said. “Turns out this girl was a drug user and dealer with priors,” said another. “Sadly, drug use often ends this way.”
Looks like we can add attitudes towards homeless people and substance abuse to the list of things we need to take a long hard look at in this country.
Courtney was the 20th woman to be murdered this year, and she won’t be the last. I’ll be writing this article again soon enough. I wish I didn’t have to.
Vale, Courtney. You deserved better.