Phil Taylor asks why the murder of backpacker Grace Millane has touched a nerve and what may come of it?

There have been vigils up and down the country. The detective, the judge, even the Prime Minister have shown rare emotion. Phil Taylor asks why the murder of backpacker Grace Millane has touched a nerve and what may come of it?

We do murder our visitors. It is not new.

An inexhaustive rollcall includes Kayo Matsuzawa, 29, from Japan, whose naked body was found in a service closet of a Queen St building in 1998; Karen Aim, 27, from Scotland, killed with a baseball bat one night in Taupo in 2008.


And hitchhikers Jae Hyeon Kim, 25, from South Korea, slain while on the West Coast in 2003; Birgit Bauer, 28, from Germany, travelling from Whanganui to Taranaki in 2005; Czech Dagmar Pytlickova, 31, near Waimate in South Canterbury in 2012.

And those who were, like Grace Millane, here from England: Monica Cantwell, 24, pulled into bush from a trail near the summit of Mauao (Mt Maunganui) and raped and murdered, and Margery Hopegood.

All were killed by strangers.

This week, Rex Miller received an email out of the blue from John Banks. The politician was Minister of Police when Hopegood, 31, was murdered in 1992. Miller was the detective in charge and Banks wanted to let Miller know he was thinking of him, of that horror, and all because of what happened to Millane.

Millane's murder will have prompted many such communications.

Miller says, of Hopegood, "She was just sitting on the riverbank reading a book and she then went to the loo."

Hopegood, who was adopted by an English couple, was confident and curious about her country of birth and keen to connect with her biological parents.

She fought the man who killed and raped her. "In memory of Margery Hopegood who died courageously here ..." reads the plaque at the site. Hopegood had been in New Zealand just four days.

The death of Grace Millane has sparked an outpouring of emotion among New Zealanders.
The death of Grace Millane has sparked an outpouring of emotion among New Zealanders.

There was a public outpouring at the time, recalls Miller, but confined to the Waikato, and nothing like this week.

On the country's behalf, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expressed shame and apologised. "Your daughter should have been safe here and she wasn't, and I'm sorry for that."

Later in the week, the PM, whose father was a senior police officer, explained the sense of duty that prompted her decision to apologise. "To this day I remember well, when I was a school girl, the Margery Hopegood case and there is something about, I think, our sense of duty to those who visit New Zealand."

She also referenced the violent tragedies happening in our own communities on a regular basis - "senseless losses of life and people suffering from domestic violence. In every case those should be of grave concern to New Zealand and New Zealanders. I believe they are."

In our country men kill women all the time. It's not new.

Nearly always their killer is known to them. There's the woman who has yet to be named who died in Flat Bush on Monday. There's the man sentenced on Thursday for shooting his partner in the head because she wanted to leave him.

As a people we are proud of our (relatively) clean and green image but reluctant to talk about the dark stuff.

"We hide a lot of our really dark side," says Dr Siouxsie Wiles, a microbiologist and science communicator. "This week our dark side has come up and I think what we need to show the world is that we're not going to stand for it anymore."

A notice for one of the two vigils held in Auckland Wednesday reads, "Many of our gut reactions are to want to say this isn't New Zealand, this isn't us. And to some degree it isn't - travelling women don't often get murdered here - but New Zealand women do, most often in their homes."

And there is the ugly data: a care and protection notification issued every five minutes, 3500 family violence incidents investigated by police each year, 35 per cent of women experience physical or sexual violence from a partner or ex-partner in their lives.

The two Auckland vigils attracted about 800 people, with hundreds more attending events throughout the country. Today there is a march planned in Christchurch.

This murder has had such a powerful impact for many reasons. Millane was a guest, young, promising, beautiful, blameless, from a country many New Zealanders trace forbears to and doing her OE, like we Kiwis do.

It was her birthday and it is Christmas time and we clung to fading hope that it would end well. "When she went missing, as well as contacting the authorities her family reached out on social media, so we became invested in looking for her," says Wiles.

Her face was everywhere, she was in our midst.

"There was all of that bundle, that she was a beautiful young white woman, whether that struck a chord more in people I don't know, but we got taken on that journey [of hope]."

Wiles believes a lot of women saw themselves in Millane. Perhaps they had travelled or are off on their OE next year. Even meeting up with friends at night, a women will be alone at some point. Or on a date with a person they don't know well, "a stranger who you would hope will not wish you harm".

Wiles got involved in the Auckland vigil because of a social media pushback. "The whole victim-blaming: if she had behaved in a safer way she wouldn't have been hurt. We see this play out all the time when women are sexually assaulted. It makes me really angry because it is also about us owning the problem.

"The man who murdered Grace and the people who do violent things, they don't wake up that morning and decide to do that. There is a whole series of things that happen in their lives and part of it is social, how we treat boys and girls, the behaviours we endorse."

The candlelit vigil at St Patrick's Square in Auckland in remembrance of Grace Millane. Photo / Peter Meecham
The candlelit vigil at St Patrick's Square in Auckland in remembrance of Grace Millane. Photo / Peter Meecham

"We need to understand that while this is the tip of the iceberg … you don't get the tip of the iceberg without all the stuff underneath it."

Labelling as monsters those who commit heinous crimes acts to stifle debate as it dehumanises the offender and removes our responsibility of being part of that society.

Little things build up and in some people that will lead to violence, says Wiles. Had their friends challenged misogynist attitudes or laughed them off?

Many men find it really uncomfortable to call out that kind of behaviour, but we must, says Mark Longley, whose 17-year-old daughter, Emily, was murdered by her boyfriend while in England eight years ago.

"Men, we are definitely part of the solution because it is us who are doing it."

Longley gives the example of his daughter Hannah when out jogging having obscenities yelled at her by three men in a van.

"That happens a lot, and if you are doing that then you are part of the problem.

"What happened to Grace is at the extreme end, but scale that behaviour back a few layers and you have got guys in a van yelling sexual abuse at a female jogger who is on her own."

Excuses make us feel safer, says Longley, like claiming that this happened because Millane was travelling alone. "But this young woman should be able to travel on her own and be completely safe."

Millane reportedly met the person she was last seen with via Tinder. There is debate about whether meeting a stranger in a bar is safer than an introduction via a dating site.

"I'm still OK with Tinder," Amy Brierly, 33, told the Herald, at a vigil this week. "But it's important to think about the time of day you meet the person, and where you meet the person."

Warning women to be careful is one thing, says Longley, but the big thing is educating men not to behave this way. He hopes men who consider themselves not to be part of the problem are embarrassed enough to be part of the solution.

"Men, we are definitely part of the solution because it is us who are doing it."

Two things give the Auckland Sexual Abuse HELP Foundation's executive director Kathryn McPhillips cause for optimism. The Prime Minister's response, "which was one of deep caring", and an examination next year involving 10 government departments of our system of responding to sexual and family violence.

The Government is on board in a way she had not seen in 30 years working in the sector. "The only thing that dampens my hope is [pervasive] pornography."

Public consultation will be part of the review and McPhillips hopes the "anger and energy" stirred up by the murder of Millane is felt then, and does not find its way back under the carpet.

Wiles says: "We have lots of things as a country to be proud of but we sweep under the carpet things we are not proud of instead of dealing with them head on.

"We need to stop being so defensive. Both mothers and fathers say to their son, 'don't throw like a girl'. It is all of those little things. It builds up. We are all implicated because it is complicated."

Grace Millane's murder was a tragedy but it must not be an unspeakable tragedy.