I wasn’t one of the tens of thousands of people who marched down Sydney Road today in memory of Jill Meagher, just a couple of hundred metres from my house in the People’s Republic, but bravo for those who did. I hope that in their grief, Ms. Meagher’s family know that Brunswick felt for them, and that comforts them as their very public story recedes from the headlines.
But beyond an outpouring of grief (tempered with the relief that a suspect has been arrested) the media reports indicate something more – a desire to do something, to make Ms. Meager’s death meaningful:
One note summed up the purpose of the march. Casey wrote “Jill, I hope you watched today as thousands of people came out to honour your beautiful life and to ensure your life and death are never forgotten.
“The nature of your passing is not acceptable, and you have bought a community together to show we will not tolerate it.”
That’s true. But how can we express that intolerance in a way that is actually useful in reducing violence, and in a way that doesn’t do more harm than good?
We’ve already had the state government promising to “review CCTV coverage“. CCTV camera footage appears to have been critical in the investigation of Jill Meagher’s abduction. However, despite its popularity, there is very little evidence that CCTV systems in public spaces reduce crime, including violent crime.
Without going into territory that’s sub judice, I think there’s every likelihood that the issue of sentencing is likely to be raised, particularly in the context of a government looking for any pretext to increase jail terms, despite the evidence that (in general) harsher sentencing doesn’t reduce crime. I would qualify this by noting that the general principle on sentencing doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look at sentencing in specific circumstances. That is a subtlety I’m not exactly expecting the state government to share.
Finally, I’d note that while reducing violence against women (or men) in public places is a laudable goal, it’s worth pointing out where the biggest risks faced by women are – in their own home, at the hands of their intimate partners. Fully 55% of women who are murdered in Australia are murdered by their intimate partner.
Ms. Meagher’s terrible death has clearly touched the hearts of the many wonderful people who make up the Brunswick community, and beyond. But if we desire to use that emotion to change our community for the better, could we please, please, please engage our heads to make our best attempt to actually do something with a chance of working? I don’t know what that something is, but surely it is not beyond our wit to find it.