Yes, we have a right to be safe but there are no guarantees

WE have every right to feel safe in our community.

We should be free to run along remote paths on the outskirts of town, or walk a block or two from the pub after a couple of drinks.

But should we actually do it?

It’s a question that has an extra sting to it this week after the murder of ABC employee Jill Meagher.

Yet it’s something every woman will have considered before, particularly those who have had their own uncomfortable brush with a stranger.

It could have been the white car that slowed and crept behind you as you ran around Mungabareena Reserve, or a naked man who sprang from the bushes during your dawn stroll up Monument Hill.

For me, it was a cross-dressing flasher, wearing a dress, fishnet stockings and high heels, who followed me when I was running along the river as a teenager.

Everyone has their own story, which is why Jill Meagher’s seems to have struck a chord with so many.

Unfortunately there is no rule book that explains when you should call a cab, stick to the main road or shrug and say “I’ll be fine”.

Instead, the very best tool a woman has to protect themselves is their instinct.

Wodonga police acting inspector Kate Chamberlain said if your gut is telling you something’s not quite right, you shouldn’t ignore it.

You know that twisting feeling in your stomach as you walk a dark street and listen to the click of your heels, knowing you’re all alone?

While the odds are you won’t end up gagged and stuffed in a car boot, the sneaking anxiety is your body telling you you’re at risk, however small that risk may be.

Insp Chamberlain said we all trust our instincts, “the problem is we don’t use them so much”.

“If you look at the local area it’s very safe but at the end of the day if you don’t take precautions against a million-to-one chance you leave yourself at risk,” she said.

Of course, it pays to let your head have a say in the debate as well.

If you screamed would someone be able to hear you? Can you call police? Does someone know where you are?

Insp Chamberlain said personally she wouldn’t go running in deserted streets on the outskirts of Wodonga because there’s no “contingency plan” if something bad was to happen.

Diluting your odds of becoming that rare victim might be as simple as inviting a friend to go running with you.

After Jill Meagher went missing a week ago, several women used the Facebook group set up to find her to report scares that they’d had in the same area Jill disappeared.

Tragically, it was an outpouring of information that came too late to prevent her murder.

Police say those who feel threatened by strangers should forget about being a hassle and just give them a call.

They would vastly prefer that it “turn out to be nothing” than to stay away, only to be faced with a missing person investigation.

One also has to wonder about those who have somehow made themselves characters in the close encounter story every woman seems to tell — the type that do the U-turn to roll down their window and leer at a young girl walking home by herself.

My message to those people is to think for just a second about how your behaviour makes other people feel about stepping out alone.

After all, no one wants to be that “creepy guy”.