Written by Livia Albeck-Ripka
Hundreds of people gathered on the steps of Parliament House in Melbourne on Friday to pay tribute to the second woman killed in an apparently random attack on the city’s streets in less than a year.
The woman, Aiia Maasarwe, was a 21-year-old Israeli student. She was killed early Wednesday morning, less than 1 mile from her house in the city’s northern suburbs, while returning from a night out with friends.
Police said she had been speaking by phone to her sister, who is overseas, when the attack occurred.
“The phone then appeared to fall to the ground and she couldn’t contact her,” Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper of the Victoria State Police said during a news conference Thursday.
Maasarwe’s body was discovered around 7 am by passers-by.
On Friday afternoon — just hours before hundreds of people would congregate in the city center to remember Maasarwe — police said they had arrested a 20-year-old man in connection with her killing. Police did not identify the man, and as of Friday night no charges had been announced.
“We have complete faith in the Victorian Police and have no doubt that they will leave no stone unturned in the search to bring the perpetrator to justice,” the Israeli Embassy said in a statement Thursday.
Maasarwe’s death follows the killing in June of Eurydice Dixon, a 22-year-old comedian, who was also attacked late at night on Melbourne’s streets. A 19-year-old man, Jaymes Todd, was arrested and later pleaded guilty to her rape and murder.
Dixon’s killing provoked a national conversation about violence against women. Some said a culture of toxic masculinity had led to the violent assault and murder of hundreds of women in Australia in recent years, though usually at the hands of people they knew.
On average, according to figures released last year by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, one woman is killed by a partner or ex-partner every week in Australia. But “when these horrific attacks happen and it’s strangers, people tend to take more notice,” said Karen Pickering, a feminist writer in Melbourne who helped organize the vigil Friday.
She and other activists said they now planned to hold a vigil every time a woman was killed, regardless of who the perpetrator might be.
At the vigil, many people wore black at the organizers’ request, and they remained largely silent to respect the wishes of Maasarwe’s family. They are from Baqa al-Gharbiyye, a predominantly Arab city in the north of Israel, and identify as Palestinian.
“For her to come here and be met by this kind of violence, it’s terrifying,” said Tasnim Sammak, a 27-year-old Ph.D. student at Monash University and a member of Melbourne’s Palestinian community, which has rallied together in support of the family.
Some sat huddled on the steps around Maasarwe’s father, Saeed Maasarwe, who had flown to Australia to identify his daughter’s body.
Nothing, Maasarwe said, could bring his daughter back, but it comforted him to see so many people there. “I don’t hate or have ill feelings; my compass points towards a better future for everyone,” he said.
Daniel Andrews, the premier of Victoria, was among those who sent condolences to Aiia Maasarwe’s family and friends on social media. “She should have been safe here,” he said on Twitter. “And I am heartbroken she wasn’t.”