A little over a week ago as I read of the callous rape and murder of Melbourne comedian Eurydice Dixon a familiar fury boiled inside me. The right of all human beings to life, liberty and security is a cardinal component of my morality. As she walked through a park in “the world’s most liveable city”, Eurydice Dixon had those rights ripped from her in a brutal and horrifying manner. Ms Dixon was a few years older than my eldest daughter. News of her slaying sent a shiver through my core, as it did for thousands of parents of young women who wish to exercise their fundamental right to go about their business unmolested.
In the days following, a number of lengthy and confronting lists of “things that women do that men don’t have to think about” circulated social media detailing the lengths women go to in order to avoid sexual assault. These acts of vigilance, the clutching of car keys and contrived phone calls were not revelations for any man who has listened to women. They served as a counterpoint to the advice given by Victoria Police Superintendent David Clayton that women should exercise situational awareness when out in public. I’ve known combat veterans with less situational awareness than the average woman walking home from a night out.
As with the rape and murder of Jill Meagher, the outrage that followed Eurydice Dixon’s murder was as palpable as the platitudes were predictable. The commentariat virtue signaled about the need for ‘society’ to do something about the problem of male violence against women. Prominent writers such as Clementine Ford and Mia Freedman called for the education of men – as though rapists comprised that portion of men who skipped school the day “rape is wrong” was covered. Others talked about the right of women to not be raped and murdered, a right that no sane person has come close to denying. The clamour to blame everyone while blaming no-one crescendoed with Premier Daniel Andrews claiming that a “culture of violence” was responsible for Ms Dixon’s death.
There is only one person who bears any culpability in the murder of Eurydice Dixon. That person is Jaymes Todd, the man who followed Ms Dixon for kilometres before overpowering, raping and ultimately killing her. The man who only handed himself in after CCTV stills of his face saturated the media. He will answer for his crimes later this year.
The idea that Australia has a culture of violence is as absurd as the notion that such a culture turns ordinary men into rapists and murderers. The preponderance of Australians, including the majority of Australian men, are peaceful individuals who abhor violence, and who hold acts of violence perpetrated by men against women to be particularly heinous. There are individuals who hold regressive attitudes toward women, and the expression of these attitudes may lead men who are inclined to rape and murder to feel emboldened to act more brazenly but they have no bearing on why these men exist in the first place.
The impulses that drive some men to commit reprehensible acts against women have been studied by psychologists for decades. Professor Sherry Hamby, editor of “Psychology of Violence” states that “If you don’t really understand perpetrators, you’re never going to understand sexual violence”. The belief that rapists are normal men induced to evil by a misogynistic culture not only palliates the behaviour of vicious predators but causes other men to disengage from the discussion believing that they are unfairly implicated in vile acts they played no part in. The rise of the #notallmen movement is a reaction to the perceived implication that all men are potential rapists.
Sexual predators come from all walks of life, however they possess common traits. They are narcissistic cowards, lacking in empathy, acting in retribution for some imagined slight committed against them by women. Sexual violence is a crime of power, the act of forcing another human being to submit to the will of the attacker. Men who commit these acts are not normal men. They are not indoctrinated into believing that rape is socially acceptable, nor are they able to be constrained by education, social pressure or legislation. They possess psychological defects that cause them to justify crimes that other men find abhorrent. The word ‘deviant’ has fallen out of favour when describing sexual predators but is more precise than currently used terms.
Sexual predators live amongst us. They are our coworkers, our teammates and, sometimes, our brothers and sons. They have existed for the duration of human history. Contrary to the popular narrative, men are no better at picking them out of a crowd than women, possibly less so. There is a reason why men don’t have to maintain a state of hypervigilance when out in public. Predators prefer soft targets and men are significantly more difficult to overpower than women. At 183 centimetres and 90 kilograms, I’m only slightly north of average for a man, yet terrifyingly large for a woman of average proportions. Biology provides men with a powerful physical advantage over women. Denser bones, greater muscle ratios and a hefty serving of testosterone mean that even smaller men can pose a danger to most women.
In the past, this advantage was ameliorated by paternalism. Women were chaperoned by men, men only dated women once they were vetted and it was improper for unrelated men and women to be alone together. We have moved past the notion of the “fairer sex” requiring the permission of men to live their lives, and this has improved the status of women a great deal. But this comes at the expense of exposing women to the furtive sociopaths who prey upon them. In the modern world, technology can play a larger role in reducing the power differential between men and women. Since the advent of Colt’s “peacemaker”, the ability to stop an attacker before they can leverage their superior size and strength has been within the grasp of anyone.
A 9mm pistol can accurately deliver over 500 Newton metres of force at a distance of twenty-five metres. Non-lethal weapons have made great strides in accuracy, reliability and effectiveness. Tasers, stun-guns, chemical irritant sprays and gels as well as sonic weapons can debilitate an attacker before they get close enough to cause harm. They are available in compact, lightweight devices that are easily carried, even while exercising. The usefulness of these devices is not limited to individual encounters. Levelling the stakes in terms of defensive capability between men and women ensures a powerful deterrent to such encounters even taking place. Men inclined to commit sexual assaults are less likely to act upon those inclinations in the face of an intended victim who is likely to be capable of fending them off.
While non-lethal defence weapons are inexpensive and carried by thousands of women around the globe, they are illegal for civilian use in Australia. In all jurisdictions the carrying of even a pen for the purpose of fending off violent attackers is illegal and weapons offences carry hefty penalties.
Rights are only useful to the extent that they can be defended. The right to life encompasses a natural right to take reasonable precautions to protect life and limb. This right includes the right to avail oneself of whatever devices may be appropriate to achieve the required amount of personal protection.
If Australian governments are serious about the rights of women, then they must end the prohibition on personal defensive weapons. Australia has one of the world’s highest rates of sexual assault not because there is a culture of violence, but because there is a prevalent culture of non-violence. Australians have lobbied governments into enacting legislation that renders nearly all weapons use a serious crime. In doing so we have skewed the power differential back in favour of men. Sexual predators exploit this imbalance knowing that the most dangerous weapon they are likely to face is the ignition key of a Honda Civic.
It is farcical that a security guard can carry a handgun to protect banknotes, but a woman is prevented from carrying pepper spray to safeguard her life. It shows a grave lack of self-awareness for police, carrying weapons for their own protection, to tell women that mobile phones are effective in preventing assault. It is the height of hypocrisy for Daniel Andrews, who benefits from a well-armed protective detail, to tweet about men needing to change when the power to enact legislative changes that would greatly improve the safety of Victorian women lies with the government that he controls.
White-hot rage has forged a steely determination. Eurydice Dixon deserved to be a household name for the things she achieved in life, not the manner in which a cowardly stranger chose to cause her death. My daughters, and all Australian woman, deserve to be safe from sadistic sociopaths operating under the cover of darkness. I will not stand by while more names are added to the list of women assaulted, raped and killed by men every year. The law must change. If we are to effectively demonstrate to predators that their actions will not be tolerated then we need to do so in the only terms they understand, power and fear.