Grace Millane's Trial Was A Reminder That Women Will Always Be Judged For Enjoying Life
Women will always be blamed for travelling alone, for going on dates, for drinking, and for having sex – and Grace's trial proved it.
Last week, Grace Millane's killer was finally brought to justice.
The defendant, 27, was found guilty of the murder of the 22-year-old backpacker who he strangled to death on the eve of her birthday in December last year.
The decision was made by the jurors in the high court of Auckland, New Zealand, in five hours, after they rejected the defendant's claim that Grace had died accidentally during "rough sex".
The verdict was the outcome of a gruelling two and a half week-long trial in which Grace's parents had to listen to the man who had murdered their daughter - the man Grace had met the day of her death - speak about her sexual preferences.
They would have to hear how Grace was a member of BDSM sites, and her sexual history discussed in minute detail by her past boyfriends - all of which the world's media covered fervently.
Courts were told that Grace - who had been on an around-the-world backpacking trip, arriving in 'safe' New Zealand having completed six weeks in the supposedly 'dangerous' South America - was "naive and trusting".
This is a phrase that leaves a particularly sour taste in the mouth; as if it were her fault for being murdered.
Since the news of Grace's murder came out, the "why was she traveling alone" and "she was putting herself at risk" rhetoric online has been worrying.
As someone who left for a solo trip around South America at the same time as Grace in October last year, I can tell you travelling alone, nor Grace's decision to go on a date with a stranger, had anything to do with her death.
Having spent six months working in hostels around Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Bolivia, you quickly learn the travelling lore. Casual sex is part of the culture, hostel bed hopping comes as standard, and spontaneous rendezvous with people you've just met tot up as just another hilarious travelling story to take home to your friends.
One friend I met in Rio de Janeiro went on a Tinder date with a guy and ended up at his in a neighbouring city, having to borrow money for an Uber home. Another hopped on a motorbike with a guy she'd just met and disappeared for two days.
Admittedly, you take more risks when you're travelling and your inhibitions are somewhat lowered - but women have the right to have adventures, be reckless and live their lives to the fullest without fear of being murdered.
And if they so sadly are, without having their sex lives dragged through the news.
Lucy, 26, spent eight months backpacking in Asia last year, a trip she calls the "best time of my life".
"I dated someone in every location I went while travelling," she tells Tyla. "Most of my experiences were positive bar a couple."
"I was travelling so I wasn't planning on finding a long-term relationship. I had a lot of casual sex, but everyone does when you're travelling."
When she was in the Philippines, Lucy, who works in recruitment, dated a Canadian called Josh.
"I was staying in a really crap hostel because I couldn't afford anything better on the island. It was early on in my trip and I was alone so I befriended a group of Canadians and began dating one of them.
"Over the next few days we went diving, went for dinner and went on a bar crawl. I told him I didn't have anywhere to live and ended up living with him and his mates at their AirBnb for two weeks."
Lucy, from London, says she generally felt safe backpacking - "I was always in groups, you're never really alone when you're solo travelling" - but admits she sometimes did things she'd "never do at home".
"I spent New Years Eve in Thailand and ended up lying on the beach looking at the stars with a man I'd met an hour earlier. In Bali I jumped on the back of a random guy's moped when he pulled up and asked to take me for a drink. One guy I went out with I found out had a criminal record a couple of months later when I looked him up on Facebook," she tells us.
"It's not the kind of stuff I'd do in London, but travelling is different, it's often spur of the moment," she tells us. "But they're the moments I'll remember forever."
Lucy's experience is not unique: in 2015, 78 per cent of solo travellers were women, according to research via The Telegraph.
The defendant's use of the 'consensual rough sex' plea (of which there's been a ten-fold increase in murder cases in 20 years, according to We Can't Consent To This) manifests as the ultimate in victim-blaming.
Grace was blamed for travelling alone, for going on dates, for drinking, for having sex and having sexual preferences. It wasn't explicit but the subtext was plain to see.
Conversely, her killer was allowed to keep his anonymity until recently.
The same scrutiny isn't applied to men's sex lives in court as it is women's, namely because their are minimal cases where men are the ones being killed.
Only five men are known to have been killed in claimed "rough sex gone wrong" cases since 1972, where all of the suspects in their deaths were also men.
Travelling alone takes a lot of bravery, and admittedly, guts - something I found tested when I left for my own trip. Grace was not "naive" or "trusting", and she shouldn't be remembered as such.
As the court heard, she was a "loving, bright, intelligent young woman" who was living life to the fullest when it was cruelly taken from her.
RIP Grace Millane.
* This piece first written on 26 November 2019 for Tyla but was not published at the time due to legal reasons. I have left out the defendant's name in this upload for the same reason.