Last year, in the wake of the tragic death of Jill Meagher, I wrote this reflection on the issue of women, violence and blame.

Today, as we find that Meagher’s murderer, Adrian Bayley, was on parole at the time and had a 23-year history of violent rapes and assaults,  I have chosen to republish this reflection. As appalling as the parole issue is, it worth remembering the subtle blaming of Meagher for exercising her right to walk down our streets alone. It is that unstated rule — that it is up to women to avoid offender than society to protect us — that continues to offends me.

First published on LeadingCompany September 27, 2012

The message comes through loud and clear, although it is couched in concern and compliments.

I am referring to a disappointing column by the journalist Andrew Rule about the missing woman, Jillian Meagher, in the Herald Sun (behind a pay wall here). In it, Rule reinforces the one of the western world’s most flagrant of sexist attitudes: if women walk down dark streets late at night and get attacked or taken, it is their own fault.

No, Rule did not say that. He said: “We all have our favourite routes, from habit rather than logic. But for a stranger looking around in daylight, there seems no obvious reason why a young woman would choose to walk this way home late at night.”

And later: “There are better spots for a young woman to be walking alone after a night out drinking with workmates, ending in Sydney Road after starting in the city.”

Rule couches his criticism amid his concern for the “beautiful bride” and the “Irish girl with the smile that lights up a room”.

How can we kid ourselves that women are in any way equal in our society if they are blamed for their own fate at the hands of the violent?

And when Rule makes such a comment, will his words echo in the self-justifications of an attacker and their mates: “Look at that chick walking down that alley in the dark. She’s asking for it.”

I would rather Rule have come out and simply and said: “In our society, women can’t walk down the streets safely at night and they should simply abide by that fact.”

It’s what I would tell my daughter, who lives not far from where the attack happened. “Sweetie, I know it is unfair and wrong, but please don’t walk around late at night on your own.”

The problem is, of course, that the more women vacate the streets, the more dangerous the streets become for women. This is the message of the “Reclaim the night” street marches that happen every year on the last Friday in October.

I am going to be there this year.

The reality is that Meagher’s worrying disappearance makes me feel that I must take to the streets for the very purpose of refuting the inequity embodied in Rule’s words (even if I don’t want my daughter to do the same).

Whether consciously or not, every act of violence to a woman in a public place makes the rest of us feel the world is not ours in which to feel adult and independent. It is a world where one wrong step can be your last.

What does this have to do with women in leadership, you may ask?

For me, it is a critical matter. Women are capable of enormous achievements, running global companies, creating jobs and leading our nation. But we are humbled, brought about face, by the events such as those that apparently occurred early last Saturday morning (we do not yet now what has happened to Meagher. Ed’s update: As of today, Friday 28 September, a 41 year-old-man has been charged with Meagher’s rape and murder.)

If the corporate office is ours to claim, why not the streets? If we want to populate the boardroom, how can we abandon women to dark and lonely streets?

I would like leading women and leading men everywhere join the march to reclaim the night this October.

Regardless of the outcome in Meagher’s case, it is just as important that we demonstrate the inequity of the streets as that of the corner office.