I lived in Singapore for six years and this was written from there after the brutal murder of journalist Jill Meagher in 2012.
Since then, Destroy the Joint has established a Facebook page called Counting Dead Women in Australia. For current figures, click here:
As an expat Australian you get used to reading bizarre news about your home country in the local press – shark attacks, political gaffs, and strange crimes, as well as the serious news about asylum seekers and foreign policy generally.
From a distance, Australia comes across as an increasingly important player on the world’s stage, particularly in Asia – but also a place that is brutal and dangerous.
The latest news about the tragic rape and murder of ABC employee and Irish National Jill Meagher intensifies this.
As the mother of a daughter living in Melbourne, I share the feelings of grief, shock, disbelief and fear now being expressed by my fellow Australians.
Like many others, I am trying to make sense of this and to come to terms with my own sense of a changed reality.
Ironically, this is the very thing that ABC presenter Jon Faine called on people to maintain when he paid tribute to Jill Meagher in his program.
“That’s not what it’s like to live in the Melbourne we know,” he said
It is a plea for optimism that is difficult to absorb at the moment.
As a journalist, I am aware that news is by nature negative.
However, with its tendency to rely heavily on the easy pickings of police news, Australia increasingly comes across as a place where foreigners can be bashed or killed.
Just three weeks before the murder of Jill Meagher there were headlines about another Irish national, David Green, who died from injuries caused after an alleged bashing in St Kilda the previous fortnight.
Green and fellow Dubliner David Byas had allegedly come to the aid of a distressed woman at the hostel where Green worked. Byas remains in a coma, his life and future in the balance.
Previously, the media focus was on Indian students who had been attacked and which drew international attention.
The most recent victim was Indian accountancy student, Nitin Garg, who was stabbed when he walked through Cruikshank Park in Yarraville on the way to work in January 2010. He died shortly after.
It is a small comfort to find an Australian Institute of Criminology study on the Murder of Overseas Visitors to Australia that shows that the risk for tourists is extremely low.
In the nine years from 1 July 1994 to 30 June 2003, there were 34 overseas visitors murdered in Australia in 20 separate incidents, the report says.
Compare this to the 5.9 million tourists who visited Australia last year.
Interestingly, the report says that for the same period (1994-2003) 158 Australians were murdered in 32 overseas countries.
Further statistics from the Australian institute of Criminology website shows that homicides have decreased by 12 percent from 2006 – the lowest number recorded in the past 12 years.
But none of this brings back Jill Meagher, David Green or Nitin Garg.
That such crimes happen rarely in Australia is no comfort, because they shouldn’t happen at all.
It is worth noting that by comparison Singapore has one of the lowest crime rates in the world – and it’s getting lower.
Just last month, The Straits Times reported that the Singapore crime rate fell by 2.3 per cent in the first six months of this year, compared to the same period last year.
Violent property crimes were down 2.15 per cent and crimes against persons dropped by 6.9 per cent.
Of course, these are government statistics and governments have a vested interest in positive news. Singapore’s history, character and political system are also very different from Australia’s.
But it does point to the fact that culture, as well as coincidence, could be a factor in Australia’s crime rate.
I feel safe here in Singapore in a way that I never felt in Melbourne. As a woman here, I do not feel the need to look over my shoulder when walking back from a restaurant at night, or to limit my activities.
Overall, there is a general feeling of respect, especially towards women; perhaps because Singapore is not an overtly masculine culture like Melbourne.
The preliminary results of a United Nations survey of violence against women in Singapore support this.
The report, part of an International Violence Against Women Survey conducted by the United Nations Inter-regional Crime and Justice unit, found Singapore had the lowest rate of lifetime violence victimization (9.2 per cent) compared to the 11 other countries that have participated so far (including Australia).
By comparison, the Australian component of the survey found that 48 per cent of Australian women had experienced at least one incident of physical violence over their lifetime and that 34 per cent experienced at least one incident of sexual violence.
Crimes against women cost the Australian community $13.6 billion in 2008-9, and that’s just the economic cost.
So while tragic murders like that of Jill Meagher may be rare, violence against women is not.
That’s why it’s vital that the messages of peace and hope from yesterday’s march down Sydney Rd to honour Jill be transformed into action.
At the very least, the legacy of Jill Meagher, David Green, Nitin Garg and others like them should be that Australia takes a good hard look at itself and ask “Why?”
An earlier version of this story was published in today’s Age, under the title We must look at Australia’s violent culture.
See this link:
Thanks to everyone who took the trouble to comment. By writing this story, I hoped to put the issue of cultural violence in the national spotlight and raise the level of debate, and you have all helped to do this.
The Murder of Overseas Visitors in Australia:
International Violence Against Women Survey, Singapore report:
Equivalent Australian report:
Highlights of the Australian report: