Late-night violence in capital cities – especially along nightclub strips – has been widely discussed in recent weeks. In October, thousands of people marched in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick to ‘Reclaim the Night’, opposing street violence against women. People are looking for answers about how to put an end to street violence, particularly harassment and violence against women.
The tragic death of Jill Meagher, abducted from a popular late-night strip in Melbourne in September, has been the catalyst for this reinvigoration of debate and action. But violence in bar and nightclub hotspots is endemic across Melbourne.
In April a woman was dragged off Johnston Street in Fitzroy by an attacker armed with a knife. In October a gang of men attacked, tasered and robbed a man near Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. A young member of the Socialist Party was also recently attacked by a group of armed men in Fitzroy. Intimidating catcalling and sexual harassment of women is so widespread it largely goes unreported or unmentioned.
Conservative commentators have dominated the debate with calls for more CCTV cameras. In this context the Socialist Party decided to propose alternative measures, moving a motion at Yarra City Council to begin an initiative to improve late night safety in the City.
The proposed measures include ways of improving taxi rank areas on the late night strips and the idea of employing Council safety officers to be stationed at taxi ranks/safe zones to offer assistance to people if they are not feeling safe. This would help send the message that street harassment is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
This proposal is about looking at preventative measures that change the environment on the late night strips and improving transport options, which under the current privatised and chaotic system are extremely limited late at night.
Street violence is a symptom of a deeply unequal class society that leads some men to desire control over women. The issue of violence against women must be seen in the context of a society that undervalues women’s work in the workplace and the home, exploits women’s bodies for profit and provides inadequate refuge for women and girls trapped in situations of domestic violence.
This systemic sexism has to change if we are to change the culture of violence and harassment. To be ultimately successful, combating violence against women needs to be linked to the fight for a genuinely democratic socialist society where people come before profit.
The well-attended Slutwalks and Reclaim the Night rallies are great steps towards collective action highlighting women’s oppression. As well as marching with and supporting these movements, we also believe progressive reforms should be fought for wherever possible. We put our positive solutions forward in Yarra because we refuse to let the right-wing dominate the debate about violence against women.
By Chris Dite