Grace's death holds lessons for all of us

Pam Jones ponders the rage surrounding the death of British backpacker Grace Millane.

As vigils are held around the country for a family's beloved Grace, rage and grief is building in a nation ashamed of one of its own.

Despite callous comments from an idiot handful claiming Grace Millane courted danger by her actions the night she was killed, any thinking individual, and sadly the majority of New Zealand, knows the truth: 22-year-old Grace was entitled to do as she pleased, use whatever dating app she liked, go home with whoever she wanted. She did nothing wrong by going to a hotel room with a man. She is not to blame for her death that night.

But the knowledge Grace could have been any one of us or anyone's daughter, travelling in good faith around the world, is coupled by the assurances we give ourselves and each other that we will stop the same thing happening to one of us.

We will be careful when travelling alone and think twice about whom we go home with. We will take safety measures to protect ourselves in foreign countries and at home. Don't walk alone at night. Don't lead men on. Don't put yourself at risk.

What too many people keep forgetting to ask is - why should it be women who need to remember these things? Why should we feel guilty if we end up in a situation deemed risky? Why are the safety messages given to women but not the men who may attack them? Why?

When I was a teenager, two safety mechanisms were drilled into me by my mother to ensure my safety if walking home alone at night: always walk home with my keys in my hand, ready to stab a potential assailant, and always walk home looking ahead to see which house had a light on indicating someone was home. That way, if someone tried to attack me, I would know which house to run to.

I taught my daughter the same, coupled with a sprinkling of other advice. Good mothers, the both of us. But why is it always the women who need to do this? To be ''responsible''? To keep themselves safe?

While acknowledging men are also victims of violence, we cannot ignore that more men hurt women than women hurt men. Domestic and wider violence statistics are stark and horrifying. Women are at risk on the street, in their homes, in hotel rooms, apparently.

I survived almost a decade of travelling the world in my late teens and 20s (and went home with more than one man my father didn't know about) but, now in my late 40s, it's no time to be smug.

Instead, I create tailor-made prayers that my own daughter, now 18 and living on distant shores, will come home safely every night. Like Grace Millane, my daughter - bright, beautiful and much-loved - messages me every day on social media, unwittingly telling me she is alive and well. Like Grace Millane's mother, if my daughter stopped messaging me, I would know something was wrong.

We did not need to know Grace to feel the fury and despair her death has created. We did not need to know her to grieve her loss and the destruction brought upon her family. Any woman, any parent, any human being, knows the torture of Grace's family is desperate and absolute. We are terrified of the same thing ever happening to us. We feel sick we were not able to keep Grace safe.

There are things we can now do.

Cry tears for Grace as her alleged killer goes through our justice system and pray her family endures it, but take practical steps to ensure the freedom and safety of women worldwide.

If you are a parent, teach your sons to respect women, without exception. If you are a good man, keep defending what's right and admonish those who abuse.

If you are an abusive man, know we are exhausted by your selfishness and cruelty and anger and arrogance. Get over yourself. Your actions and attitudes have no place in our society, and we do not grant you the power or permission to keep hurting us.

- Pam Jones is a wife, mother of three and Central Otago bureau chief of Allied Press.

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