Life is not for living in fear

By Ash Witoslawski

When we all learned of the shocking and tragic murder of exchange student Aiia Maasarwe in Melbourne last week, the news was not only devastating but also disappointing, as many of us reacted with ‘‘not again’’.

The 21-year-old was on her way home to Bundoora from a night out at a comedy club when she was attacked.

About 100m from the Route 86 tram line, her body was found behind a hedge outside a nearby shopping centre.

As the grim and disturbing facts continue to emerge, young females around the world are being served a reminder of the dangers they may face when taking simple, routine commutes.

The news of Ms Maasarwe’s death rocked me personally for a few reasons.

At her age, I attended the same university, used the same tram line to visit the city on a night out and also visited the shopping centre where her body was found.

I still have family and friends undertaking many of those same activities, working in that area and even buying houses along that same road.

I’m the first person to say you can’t live your life in fear, but when a place so familiar is struck by such tragedy, it really rocks your confidence and faith in humanity.

As I watched a recent news report interviewing her siblings back home in Israel, there was another horrible moment that caught my attention.

Ms Maasarwe’s sister Noor spoke about the last conversation her other sister Ruba had endured, which abruptly ended.

Noor mentioned Aiia always called when she walked back home because she felt uneasy and uncomfortable.

Even if you are not familiar with the north-east suburbs of Melbourne, any female can identify with this ritual when walking alone at night.

I’ve often called family or friends for this reason and they do the same.

When I entered my teens, I remember my mum saying; ‘‘if you’re ever walking alone, make sure you look like you have a purpose — look busy’’.

At the time I didn’t think much of it, but it’s surprising how much that memory has made me think over the years and kept my mind at ease when walking along at night.

Of course, no-one expects to be a victim of such horrific circumstances and nor should we. Life is not for living in fear, but having some common sense and a little caution is something I have personally needed to unfortunately tap into from time to time.

With Codey Herrmann now charged with the murder and rape of Aiia Maasarwe, it’s important we all continue to stand up and make sure women feel safe when undertaking normal tasks on a daily basis.

We need to make sure the conversation surrounding ‘‘not again’’ is never again.

Ashlea Witoslawski is a journalist at The News.