Yes, It Is Important That We Mention Courtney Herron Was Homeless

Her badly beaten body was found in a Melbourne park.

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.

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.

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.

Women Continue To Die At The Hands Of Men, So What's The Government Doing About It?

Spoiler: It's not as much funding as they're spending on a detention centre.

Normally I’m a lot more upbeat aboutInternational Women’s Day celebrations, but with the news of Preethi Reddy’s death hanging over the news cycle the day is a bit more grim this year.

Preethi was the 11th woman killed violently in Australia since 2019 began. Her body was found stuffed into a suitcase in the back of her car on Tuesday, but there’s actually already been another death ruled as murder since then – the death of 92-year-old Marjorie Welsh, who was allegedly stabbed to death by her house cleaner. We’re in the 10th week of the year, and 12 women have lost their lives to violence.

On Monday, March 4, Prime Minister Scott Morrison got up and announced the government would be putting $328 million towards programs aimed at reducing – and ultimately ending – domestic violence in Australia. He waved around a report called “Our Investment In Women’s Safety”, which has a lovely picture of a woman twirling her way through a sunlit field on the cover. Personally, I think a report about murdered women featuring a picture of any sort of field is unfortunate at best, but I’m not here to nitpick the work of some poor intern who was tasked with digging through Shutterstock for a ‘happy dancing woman’ stock image. I’m here to nitpick the announcement itself.

Back in 2017, the Coalition was forced to abandon its attempt to cut $35 million in funding for community legal centres due to a huge amount of backlash. Community legal centres are frontline stops for people fleeing domestic abuse and are already constantly under financial pressure. As if that wasn’t bad enough, that 2017 attempt at cutting funding was the second shot the government had taken. In 2015, the Abbott Government did a very similar backflip on their promise to cut $25 million from the sector.

Both of these attempted cuts were made during times when the Government was secure in their position – right in the middle of their terms, when they weren’t having to worry about any pesky upcoming elections. This cheery announcement of more funding towards domestic violence prevention comes about two months before a federal election, and after a series of unfortunate missteps for the Government. Remember the Menidee fish kills, the Banking Royal Commission, and the historic vote loss? Yeah, ScoMo needs something good to talk about.

Breaking down the funding, this package includes $82 million for frontline services, $68 million for prevention strategies and $78 million for safe places for family violence sufferers.

These numbers are a good start, but I can’t stop thinking about that $444 million that the Government gave to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation under sketchy circumstances, or the $1.4 billion spent reopening the Christmas Island Detention Centre. Priorities.

Maybe I’m skeptical. The Government has also announced plans to prevent victims of domestic violence being forced to face their attackers in person during cross examination in a courtroom, as well as offering victims early access to some of their superannuation. I actually really hope I’m wrong, and this announcement is the start of a lot of good work, and Australia can start bringing our ‘One Woman A Week’ statistic down to zero. Wouldn’t that be an International Women’s Day miracle?

Women Take On All Your Safety Measures And We Still End Up Dead, So What Next?

Don't walk alone at night. Carry your keys as a weapon. Don't wear anything revealing...

In the early hours of January 16, exchange student Aiia Maasarwe was making her way home in Melbourne, talking to her sister on FaceTime. By now you probably know how this story ended – and if you don’t, you can probably guess. She didn’t make it home. A 20-year-old man has now been charged with rape and murder.

The detail I can’t get out of my head is that Aiia was on her phone. Calling somebody while walking home is one of the most common things women do to stay safe; the idea being that it’ll be obvious we have someone who cares about us and knows where we are to any potential attacker.

How many times have I called my mum as I cross a field to make it home after dark? How many times have I been on the line with a friend, listening out for the sound of her keys to tell me that she made it home? Were none of us even a little bit safer?

Hundreds of Australians dressed in black gathered in Melbourne on the steps of Victorian State Parliament on January 18 for a silent vigil in memory of Aiia Maasarwe.

Aiia Maasarwe was FaceTiming her sister.

Eurydice Dixon was texting her partner.

Jill Meagher had just called her brother.

And yet the messages we hear from authorities over and over again are that we need to keep ourselves safe.

They tell us we should make sure you have your phone on you. But look at what’s happened.

Don’t walk home at night and stay in well lit area. But we aren’t safe walking during daylight hours either.

Make sure you take a well-used route, but also make sure you change up your routine so nobody learns it.

Carry your keys as a weapon. Don’t walk too close to a row of parked cars. Always be alert. Don’t wear clothes that are too revealing. Make eye contact with people as they pass by. Don’t get too drunk. Tell the Uber driver you’re going to your boyfriend’s house. Wear a fake engagement ring if you work in a bar. Never sleep with the window open if you live on the ground floor. Put men’s shoes outside your front door if you live alone.

We do. And we still end up dead.

There is no silver bullet solution that women can use to guarantee they make it home. The only way for this to end is for the people behind these attacks to stop murdering women, regardless of the safety precautions they may or may not have taken. It’s with the heaviest heart that I say I don’t hold out much hope for that.

Seventy-nine women and twenty-two children were murdered in Australia in 2018 – far more than the generally accepted statistic of one a week. It took just over two weeks for Aiia’s death to begin the tally for 2019. There are more to come.

Aiia’s name isn’t the last one we’ll hear. Soon enough, we’ll have another name of another woman who met a brutal end etched into our consciousness. I wonder what she’s doing right now? I wonder if I know her? It’s only a matter of time.

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