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Why every woman feels like she has a target on her back today.

Do you feel safe when you leave the house alone?

I do, or at least I always have. Perhaps it’s naive but I live my life with a tremendous amount of faith in my own physical safety. A sense of security with my place in the world and an absolute confidence in the kindness of strangers; that if something did go wrong, others would come to my aid.

But in the past few months, that feeling of comfort has dissipated, replaced instead with a foreboding that the worst could happen at any moment. As a young woman living in a major city, I don’t feel safe at all. I feel like I have a target on my back.

This morning brought the news that a man has been arrested, suspected of murdering 26-year-old Leeton woman Stephanie Scott when she ducked into work on the weekend. Stephanie was one week from getting married, she was a vivacious and committed teacher, who no doubt had a wonderful, happy life ahead of her.

“Stephanie was one week from getting married, she was a vivacious and committed teacher, who no doubt had a wonderful, happy life ahead of her.”

Today, her family are cancelling her wedding plans and instead preparing for Stephanie’s funeral.

READ MORE: School cleaner charged with Stephanie Scott’s murder.

In March, Masa Vukotic, 17, was stabbed to death while walking through a park near her Doncaster home. Prabha Arun Kumar, 41, was also killed in a park near her home in March, this time in Sydney’s west.

Masa and Prahba

In February, Traci O’Sullivan, 41, was assaulted and left to die in her own house in Frankston North. In January, Ting Fang, 25, had her throat slit in an Adelaide hotel room.

TraciPNG
In February, Traci O’Sullivan, 41, was assaulted and left to die in her own house in Frankston North. (Image Via ABC)

Mai March, Salwa Haydar, June Wallis, Sabah Al Mdwali, Jackie Ohide, Angela MacKinnon and Kris-Deann Sharpley, along with her unborn child, have all been murdered in the past four months.

RELATED: The one tip that will stop women from being killed.

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It is the 9th of April – we’re barely past a quarter of the way through a new year – and 30 Australian women have had their lives deliberately cut short. Some were killed by those they trusted, some by men they had once loved, and some by complete and utter strangers.

I don’t feel safe when waiting for the evening tram, like I used to. I walk to the supermarket and my right hand grips my keys, so that the sharp end sticks out between my first. I unconsciously hold onto my very pregnant belly when rushing through the city in the evening, as if somehow that will keep me safe from someone who wants to hurt me or my baby.

TRY THIS: Rosie Batty launches a new app for young women to help prevent violence.

It’s silly, really. Because just like for Stephanie, for Masa, for Prabha, there is nothing I can do that will keep me safe from someone who is physically more powerful and determined to hurt me. Fear is making me rationalise and justify these ‘safe’ behaviours, in a desperate attempt to feel more secure. It doesn’t mean that I am.

“Just like for Stephanie, for Masa, for Prabha, there is nothing I can do that will keep me safe from someone who is physically more powerful and determined to hurt me.”

And judging from discussions in hushed tones around the water cooler at work and anxious text messages between girlfriends early today, I am not alone in this.

“It feels like more and more women are going missing every day. It feels like every day there is a new report of an attack, and another woman’s face in my newsfeed. I’ve always been worried, but now everyone looks like a possible attacker when I go home at night,” one woman tells me.

“I am now petrified. Just walking up the street to my house I feel like I’m going to get taken and killed. I hate being out by myself once the sun goes down. I just assume I’m going to get killed or raped or abducted at some point,” says another.

“I’m already a very cautious person but I find myself feeling really nervous, especially when I’m with my kids. I feel I can’t do much on my own anymore like walking to my car at night etc without second guessing my safety,” a mother explains.

If a car stops beside me at night (or even during the day for that matter), the adrenaline instantly kicks in and I pick up my pace. I actually think about whose house I can run into or whether I have anything on me I can use as defence. It’s awful,” a university student confesses.

“Ever since Jill Meagher’s death, I think of her every single time I’m walking anywhere alone at night. Even if it’s just to the bus. She always comes to mind…” says a woman who it seems lives inside my own mind.

I know that statistically, I am extremely safe when out and about in public. In a developed country in the 21st century, women are safer than any other group of women in history have ever been outside of their homes. We are far more likely to be hurt by a person we know, love or have once been intimate with, than we are by a stranger. (Not that this assurance is a particularly comforting one).

For those of us who have been lucky enough never to have been victims of violence in our own homes, (and sadly, we are the lucky ones), there has always been an assumption of safety. Rightly or wrongly, we trust the people in our lives implicitly. We tell ourselves that we are careful about who we become close to and who we trust. We cannot imagine anyone we know wanting to hurt us.

“As women, we can no longer rationalise the violence away. We can’t pretend that it could never happen to us.”

And this is what makes the sheer randomness of these recent attacks on women so scary.

As women, we can no longer rationalise the violence away. We can’t pretend that it could never happen to us. We can’t delude ourselves that we are different, that we would never be in that relationship, or walk down that street, or catch that train. We can’t pretend that our particular circumstances mean we’re somehow immune from harm.

Simply being female, is enough.

I don’t share these stories or write these words to scare women further but rather to acknowledge that the fear is real. Because when you’re scared and those around you dismiss your fear as irrational, or silly or not real, it can make you feel even more vulnerable, even more alone.

The truth is that any one of these women could have been me, my sister, my mother, my colleagues, my friends.

And the same goes for every other Australian woman. No wonder we feel afraid.

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