Grace Millane: Our right to safe exploration
Across media platforms in the previous week, the news of 22-year-old University of Lincoln Graduate, Grace Millane, tragically having been murdered during her bag packing in New Zealand, has hit the hearts of many people, especially those who knew her.
The reason this feature is so important right now is that of the responses following the news of Grace’s story.
We are in an age where more and more young people are packing up and taking off to explore the world—often alone. The unfortunate side effect of this is, of course, the fact that being alone in an unfamiliar place can have its dangers. Then again, familiar territory can hold just as much.
All over social media, the question has been asked time and time again, “Why was she travelling alone?”. Many have responded also responded with “why not?”. I think the BBC’s interview with travel blogger and bag packer Clair Sturzaker really sums this up well.
She said: “It's absolutely awful what happened to Grace—but travelling alone had nothing to do with it. People always ask about what clothes the woman was wearing at the time, where they went, whether she walked down an alley on her own. But why are they to blame?”.
The same rhetoric of interrogating the victim seems to still be prevalent here, especially with the safety net of social media to hide behind. What about the culprit though? Why is it such a common theme to justify them, to give them a reason to do what they do?
Part of that may be due to a lack of belief that such a person could commit an atrocity without reason. Realistically though, it can just happen, unjustified, as it does tragically and consistently worldwide. As Sturzaker says, a female travelling alone in a foreign country has nothing to do with it though and it places no blame on the victim.
Sturzaker continues: "If you get a weird feeling as you're walking down a street, stop, and go down another one. That's exactly what you'd do at home, so apply it to wherever you are in the world."
She makes the point that even at home when you feel uneasy, you choose the safer route. It does not only apply to new places but unfortunately in every situation and location. The hard truth is that danger is unavoidable, but it should never hold you back from living. Grace did exactly that, she wanted to see the world, bright-eyed and eager, like so many other young people, but tragically, someone decided to take that away from her.
So, when we encounter awful news such as this, don’t look to the victim and question them, their family or their friends. Don’t ask why they decided to go out into the world alone because we have the right to expect safety, we shouldn’t have to cower in fear at the prospect of danger. Instead, look to those who think they have the right to take that exploration, that freedom, that living away from anyone, reason or no.
As someone who has never solo travelled but has explored and intends to so in the future with friends, and yes possibly one day alone, I know that I cannot let the potential for danger hold me back.
Many travel bloggers have echoed exactly what Sturzaker has said. You should apply how you act safety wise to any location. If something feels strange, don’t proceed, leave, have a charged phone on you, have the local emergency contacts. All obvious precautions any solo traveller most likely implements.
Unfortunately, for women, the world is a tougher place and although as much as we wish it was not, it is more often the case that women are targeted. Taking further steps to protect yourself, such as self-defence lessons, rape alarms and phone tracker apps could make you and your loved ones back home feel more secure about your safety.
If anything can be taken from this, it is that the world is still your oyster. You have every reason to go out there and explore it alone or otherwise. Grace’s story is heart-breaking and it is one that highlights the risks involved with solo travel. Despite this, we shouldn’t be afraid of our independence and our freedom, it is just important to be aware of the risks. This applies to male, female or anyone who wishes to take their own steps abroad.
In memory of Grace Millane, students at the University of Lincoln lit candles for those wishing to have a quiet moment to remember and reflect. The University of Lincoln Hockey team, of which she was a member during her time at university, also played a memorial game in tribute, with societies and students alike coming together to show their solidarity. Counselling will continue to be available on campus for students who have been affected by the tragic news.
Finally, a GOFUNDME page has been set up by the Hockey society in order to raise money in Grace’s honour for a Lincolnshire based cancer charity and Lucie Blackham trust, who support overseas victims and have helped Grace’s family through this time. If you could donate to this cause every penny will be massively appreciated.