As part of She’s Right’s participation in 16 days of activism to end violence against women, each article will be dedicated to a New Zealand woman who has lost her life due to gender-based violence. This article is dedicated to Nicole Tuxford, killed by a man on 7 April 2018, at the age of 27.
By Jessica Sutton.
Edited by Patrick McTague.
The level of freedom men possess to simply exist in public places astounds me. A man feels like heading out for the night? He goes! No worries about his drink getting spiked, no elaborate backup upon backup plans for how to get home safely. A man decides to head home after a late night at the office? Off he goes! No phone call to a friend to make him feel less alone, no keys clasped between his fingers as a makeshift weapon. A man feels like going for a run? Well, he certainly won’t be weighing up the risk of getting sexual assaulted or murdered for simply stepping outside his front door.
A 17-year-old was arrested a week ago for a series of violent attacks on female joggers in the Auckland region. Victims suffered severe injuries, including broken bones and concussions from being beaten. Police confirmed that the accused had been purposely targeting women running alone, with the intention to sexually assault or rape them.This kind of person is taking advantage of women he sees as easy prey. She is alone, with her attention focused on her activity, and is likely wearing headphones so she won’t hear him approaching. He believes he is somehow entitled to assault a woman who is going about her daily life, just because he can.
Tragically, this kind of incident is low level compared to the global trend of violence against women out jogging. In New Zealand, Margaret Lynne Baxter was murdered while jogging in Hawke’s Bay in 2001, and Jo Pert was stabbed to death while jogging in Auckland in 2016. This kind of killing is also common overseas, particularly in the United States where the horrific rape and murder of Karina Vetrano gained national attention. Karina was found dead by her father in the park where they used to run together regularly. Her murderer was described as having a hatred for women and claimed he “lost it” when he saw Karina running on her own.
Is it really too much to ask that a woman can access physical activity wherever she likes without being made to feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, at risk, or in serious danger from a man? Is it really too much to ask that a woman can go for a jog without being in fear of her life? Public places, and these sorts of activities, should be available to everyone. A lone woman should not be an invitation for violence, whether she is taking an early morning jog, or walking home alone after work.
Of course, in response to these criticisms, some may say women can protect themselves by going to the gym instead of running, or taking a taxi instead of walking home alone. Firstly, limiting women’s freedom of movement is not an answer to male violence. This is victim-blaming at its finest . “If only she had been more careful” rhetoric removes responsibility from perpetrators and casts it onto victims. Further, harassment and violence can happen anywhere, including gyms and transport services.
Taking taxis everywhere for example, leaving aside the expense of this, is a poor suggestion in itself. There is no guarantee that this measure will protect women from the harassment and violence they are trying to avoid. Look at the recent #UberC’estOver movement in France, in which women are beginning to reveal the scale of intimidation, sexual assaults, and rapes experienced while using taxis and transport apps. When it’s a choice between getting in a car with a stranger, or taking a long dark walk by yourself, women are put in a very difficult position.
We want men to understand that constantly trying to ensure our safety while still living our lives, trying to follow some obscure set of ‘rules’ and avoid harassment, assault, or worse – is exhausting and extremely unfair.
Of course, this does not mean we should stop doing things we have every right to do. Women have the right to take up just as much space as men in this world. Although the hostile nature of women’s experiences in public places is evident, there are things that can be done to try and mitigate risks. Running with a group is one option. Taking some serious self defence classes is another – I would recommend that to any woman. When it comes to getting home safely, I’ll also take this moment to bring up Sophie’s Angels – a New Zealand transport service staffed by women, dedicated to picking up anyone in a sticky situation. The more we can support this type of women-friendly initiative, the better.
In any case, all of these are counter-measures that women should not have to take in the first place. I am in no way blaming the victims of violence I have mentioned in this article for what happened to them. Anyone should be able to go for a run by themselves, or walk home at night after a long day. The fault is with men who see a woman alone as prey, to be harassed, attacked, or violated, rather than as a a human being. The fault is with men who see a piece of meat, rather than a person who just wants to get home safely.