Why is violence against Australian women not rated as terrorism?

May 1, 2024
A NSW Police Highway Patrol vehicle parked in Bronte Road, Bondi Junction after a mass causality event which had occurred five hours earlier. Roads around the incident have been closed by the police. This image was taken at the corner of Bonte Road and Ebley Street, Bondi Junction in the early evening on 13 April 2024.

Weekend rallies highlighted the anger and fear of thousands of women and men about the ongoing violence against Australian women. It is a crisis, and it is occurring day and night in homes and suburbs across the country where police are struggling to keep up with reporting of male violence and too many offenders avoid detection, because our leaders do not rate violence against women as the extreme terrorism it has become.

Senior security officials seem to believe that the only violence which can be rated as terrorism is that where there is a specific religious motive linked to international terrorism . Yet Australian women know that potential violence exists in their homes, workplaces and communities not in places of worship. Women know they more likely to be at risk from partners or former partners than strangers and the overwhelming reason for assault is a male culture of control to exert power over women and ignore their human rights.

The Macquarie Dictionary defines terror as “cause of intense fear” and “to coerce by intimidation “, both definitions accurately describing the experience of thousands of Australian women reporting assault. But the definition used by those responsible for counter terrorism consider “resisting a government” or “deliberate acts of armed violence “to keep up with the international debate that certain religious conflict is at the heart of recognised terrorism.

Certainly, there is no doubt that acts of terrorism around the world have heightened awareness and security in Australia. However, it is worth considering the actual experience of terrorism within Australia to compare this with the devastating toll of violence against women which is not officially described as terrorism.

In an online article “Terrorism in Australia” (Tin, Hart, Hertelendy and Ciottone. 2021) Terrorist attacks on Australian soil were described as “manageable, small-scale incidents “responsible for 15 fatalities and 14 injuries. By comparison in a comparable period over 1000 women were murdered and up to 40,000 women hospitalised.

To understand the differential priority given by governments the Australian public should know there are some 50 anti-terrorism pieces of national legislation while legislation to stop violence against women is limited to state legislation and the national Family Law Act. Similarly, the budgetary resources allocated to counter terrorism is greater than those identified for Women’s Safety.

The recent Bondi shopping centre attack apparently targeting women five of whom died of stab wounds was determined as the action of an individual with a history of mental health issues, while a few days later the stabbing of a religious leader in a church was announced as terrorism. Both attacks are deeply disturbing examples of violence in our community but why is one terrorism and the other the actions of a deranged individual?

Why could 400 Australian Federal Police be mobilised to raid the homes of teenagers and children allegedly involved in a riot after the church stabbing when police forces around the country cannot monitor thousands of Apprehended Violence Orders to guarantee known violent perpetrators will not be able to again attack and too often murder their partners?

In 1988 I was responsible for the Australia’s first national domestic violence awareness campaign “Break the Silence “at a time when so much male violence against women was hidden or excused. In that era police were well known for referring to family violence as “only a domestic” when women were afraid to speak up or report the actions of perpetrators. After thirty-six years of policy reform Australians are certainly more aware of the extent of violence in our communities, but we have failed to find a way to stop the increasing rates of violence against women.

The efforts of state police forces in changing policies to protect women is commendable but the volume of women reporting incidents of abuse is such that police cannot currently manage to monitor all Apprehended Violence Orders to prevent future attacks. The Australian Bureau of Statistics November 2023 reports that partner violence affects an estimated 4.2 million adults.

As state and federal leaders gather to plan their response to this national emergency it is essential they recognise some of the double standards which currently rates international terrorism more seriously than the daily terror so many Australian women face. Our leaders need to respond to the statistics that show quite clearly where resources, reform and recognition are overdue. No, we don’t need a Royal Commission to tell us there is a problem, nor can we rely solely on action plans, but well targeted increased financial support of women’s support services and police units will be a start to changing priorities about the real terrorism which exists in Australia in 2024.


Your might also be interested to read this earlier article from John Menadue:

JOHN MENADUE. Domestic violence is a greater threat than terrorism

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