RIP Sophie – Student Safety Under The Microscope

Tonight I was incredibly moved to read of the vigil held last night for murdered 21 year old French student, Sophie Collombet. I did not know Sophie, but my heart goes out to her family and her boyfriend, her friends and classmates.

http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-10/brisbane-march-honours-murdered-french-student-sophie-collombet/5381990

Just a few months away from returning to France, she was studying at one of Brisbane’s top universities and heading home when she was attacked in Kurilpa Park on the bank of the Brisbane River, less than a kilometre from her apartment. Her body was found – raped, beaten and naked – early the next morning by a person on a morning walk. She was heading home from a late class at university when the tragedy unfolded.

People have left messages saying they hope she is at peace now… She shouldn’t be in a situation where she has to be at peace! She should be here… having fun with her friends, attending classes, enjoying her last few months in Brisbane. But some sick bastard murdered her. I’ve been living in blissful ignorance, thinking things like this just don’t happen here. It’s just all so senseless.

She could have been someone I know, one of my classmates. She could have been one of my best friends. Or she could have been me. The thought terrifies me. That’s what makes this feel so close to home. We frequently travel in the same areas leaving university to travel to the nearby train stations late at night.

Not even 4 weeks ago, our design tutorial that is supposed to finish at 8:00 pm ran so far over time that I didn’t leave campus until 10:05. I had 17% battery left on my phone, no one had waited for me (understandably everyone wanted to get home!!) and travelling alone over the GW bridge through several dimly lit, unpopulated areas to SB station was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. I remember saying silent prayers that no one would approach me and if anyone looked like they were going to, I called a friend on my phone. The sense of trepidation was very real. I remember the hairs on the back of my neck was standing up. The people who hang around the train station at that hour of night are on the wrong side of savoury. I got frantic text messages from my mum wondering where I was because I’d been due home over an hour and a half earlier.

Then last year, we had an assignment that warranted documenting the murky, seedy underbelly of the Brisbane freeway and river’s edge – which meant being in that area at night. Even at the time, I was incredulous at the fact that this was allowable under university guidelines.

There was a sheet given out that expressed we take ‘reasonable caution’ when undertaking the site analysis / film making assignment. A sheet that no doubt absolved them of responsibility. So here we were, under the freeway in a crime ridden area at 10pm, sometimes closer to midnight. Nothing happened. But it could have. We were filming not even 300 metres from where Sophie died.

Surely ‘reasonable caution’ would have involved not setting a ridiculous, unsafe assignment that put students in harm’s way simply by the very nature and location of the assignment?!? Surely ‘reasonable caution’ means not having classes that finish at 10pm in inner city universities where nearly everyone (who can’t afford $40 a day in parking) relies on public transport to get home?!?

What can we do to keep our students safe? What can we do to make our streets, stations and bus terminals safer? How could something this devastating happen in a public space to a young woman with her whole beautiful life ahead of her?

I’m feeling so unsettled and my heart just aches for all those who came in contact with her and who loved her.

To my friends, colleagues and amazing students… Be safe. Look out for each other. Do not leave uni at night alone. Make alternate plans for getting home. Always have a contingency in place.

No more families should have to get that call. RIP Sophie.

#keepstudentssafe #safestreetsforsophie #newsystemsforsafety #ripsophie

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