Grace Millane and a gap in our youth provision

Grace Millane, the 22-year-old woman who was killed whilst backpacking in New Zealand should be a wake-up call for us all.

The discourse around this has been increasingly frustrating. There are two schools of thought when people have been discussing her murder.

The first is that “she shouldn’t have been travelling alone; she shouldn’t have gone on a date with someone unknown, or out with a man she barely knew”. This is classic victim blaming and we do not know enough about the circumstances under which she met the man who has been charged with her murder. It is also completely beside the point. No one is responsible for her death other than her murderer.

Furthermore, as Grace’s family have said, “We all hope that what has happened to Grace will not deter even one person from venturing out into the world and discovering their own overseas experience.” This is the other side of the discourse and it is entirely right. No, Grace did not do anything wrong by travelling alone and no person, regardless of gender, is wrong for wanting to explore the world on their own.

Nevertheless, this does pose a question for our community. We have numerous programmes in schools, youth movements, and J-Socs that will prepare young people for a gap year or summer in Israel, where they are supported, checked in with, and mostly looked after in some way.

Young people often have strong friendships that carry though youth movements, school, gap years in Israel, and university. They will hopefully be lucky enough to have a network of friends that check in with each other, go out with each other, and make holiday plans with each other.

But, what happens when you want to do something that your friends don’t want to do with you? Who is there to support you? Who ‘has your back’? Who helps you prepare for travelling abroad outside of a well established, planned Israel programme?

If we raise our children and young people to rely on this community, its institutions and programmes, to fully prepare them for the world, then this is something we need to start taking a much closer look at.

Programmes that teach young people personal safety do exist. Maccabi GB and CST run Streetwise, which works to enhance the personal safety and personal development of young Jewish people to support their physical and emotional wellbeing. They focus on being ‘webwise’, on antisemitism and discrimination, anti-bullying, personal safety, relationship and sex education as well as leadership. Jewish Women’s Aid run their Safer Dating programme, which brings relevant and engaging relationship education to 16-25 year olds across the community. Sessions are designed to help young people recognise the signs of healthy and abusive relationships, reflect on their own and other’s relationships, know where to go for help and support, think critically about the way relationships are represented in the media.

These are both excellent and proven successful programmes, which help to support young people’s safety.

But, I still want to know where the programme that prepares you for looking after yourself abroad is? If you haven’t had the experience of lone travel abroad as a parent, how can you pass on the advice to your children? Who is it that is supposed to make sure that if someone wants to go and explore the world on their own, that they know how to make sure they are taking all the right precautions for their own safety and wellbeing?

I do not have an answer as to whose responsibility this is, but if, as a community, we look to take responsibility for most other aspect of our young people’s wellbeing and development, Grace’s murder has to serve as a wake-up call.

Being well prepared for lone-travel will not always prevent bad things from happening and simply knowing what to do in certain situations may not always help. But it might. And that’s what’s important.

As more young people look to travel abroad before, during, or after university, it should not be something they have to prepare for alone, especially if they are travelling alone.

About the Author
Working and volunteering in the Jewish community paying close attention to communal campaigns, youth, female leadership, and community development.