Counter-terrorism gets a bigger political focus than domestic violence – with far fewer victims

It is the intimate terrorists who are the greatest threat to the lives of women and children in Australia, writes Jane Gilmore.

It is the intimate terrorists who are the greatest threat to the lives of women and children in Australia, writes Jane Gilmore. Photo: TND

Two women and a baby girl were killed last week, allegedly by violent, abusive men.

Amid all the grief and rage we had politicians holding press conferences about how awful it is, and police promising internal reviews.

Crisis groups issued more exhausted pleas for more funding.

So, pretty much the same thing that happened last time women and children were killed by men.

Does it have to be this way? Maybe there’s more we could do.

Let’s try a thought experiment to see if women and children’s lives could matter more under different circumstances.

Imagine for a moment a Muslim terrorist doused a white Australian woman and her children with petrol on a public street and set fire to them. Imagine that fire consuming their bodies, their lives.

Imagine he watched them die an agonising death and then killed himself, leaving behind a history of jihadist rhetoric and hatred of western civilisation.

What response would we get from our political leaders? From police? From the media?

Take your imagination a step further, into the investigation of his murders.

Perhaps investigators discovered he had made multiple threats to kill Australian women and children in the name of a jihadist crusade.

What if those threats had been reported to police and they’d done nothing more than issue a warning?

What if that Muslim terrorist had a history of religious-based assaults on Australian women and children, and the courts had responded with community corrections orders, suspended jail terms and unenforced bail conditions?

Would the government create, for instance, a super ministry with authority over every agency responsible for preventing terrorism?

Would we permanently change security measures in every public building? Would spending on counter-terrorism become one of the big-ticket items in the federal budget?

Could you imagine, in such circumstances, that Prime Minister Scott Morrison or Defence Minister Peter Dutton would condemn this one act, but warn against demonising all Muslim people because of the action of one violent extremist?

Would leading mainstream newspapers publish front-page op-eds about the dangers of Islamophobia and the suffering of innocent Muslims – tarred by the brush of one Muslim man who acted on radicalised hatred?

Would we demand every other Muslim man denounce the act?

Now take your imagination further down the track.

After that one act of terrorism, what would happen to the next Muslim man who threatened to kill women and children in Australia?

How many task forces and special operations groups would descend upon him within minutes of those threats being reported?

Hannah Clarke in life, right, with her three children. And left, her funeral.

According to the Global Terrorism Database, 12 people have been killed by Muslim or Jihadi-inspired extremists in Australia in the past 21 years.

The National Homicide Monitoring Program states that more than 1800 women and girls were killed in Australia over the same time, with at least half of those women murdered by men who were their current or former partners.

It’s difficult to parse out how much money is spent on counter-terrorism in Australia, but a report from the Department of Home Affairs suggests funding for non-defence national security was almost $7 billion in 2018.

It is equally difficult to estimate how much is spent on domestic violence prevention.

As an indication, in 2019, the federal government announced $328 million for prevention and frontline services through the Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022.

(This is the plan that predicts no change in the rate of men’s violence against women for at least 10 years – which means at least 600 women will be killed before we can expect anything to change.)

That works out to more than 20 times more federal government funding on counter-terrorism than on preventing men’s violence against women.

No one could sensibly argue that we shouldn’t invest in protecting Australian from terrorism – including from radicalised, right-wing extremists like the Christchurch massacrist.

But it is the intimate terrorists who are the greatest threat to the lives of women, boys and girls in Australia.

As almost everyone reading this will know, the scenario I presented at the beginning of this article did actually happen.

A man set fire to Hannah Clarke and her three children, six-year-old Aaliyah, four-year-old Laianah, and three-year-old Trey.

The man who committed this atrocity was once the woman’s husband. He wanted to cause his ex to feel terror.

Violent and abusive men want women to be in a state of terror.

When you break it all down, the real reason we would react so differently to a Muslim terrorist burning women and children alive, versus a husband doing the same thing, is we utterly reject that a Muslim terrorist has the right to commit such an atrocity.

The deeply entrenched racism that says brown or black men are a threat – while white men are protectors – is certainly part of it.

Also entwined in our lack of action is the belief that men who kill their partners are justified in their rage and hatred, to some extent.

Last week we grieved for Kelly Wilkinson, allegedly burned alive by her ex-husband. And for little Kobi Shepherdson, who was killed by her father. And for Lordy Ramadan, killed in an apartment on the Gold Coast.

We don’t yet know the name of the woman who will be killed next week.

We don’t yet know how many times she asked police to protect her.

We don’t yet know what crimes he committed or how many court orders he breached.

But we will. And then we have to decide if we care enough to do something more than nothing about it.

Jane Gilmore is a freelance journalist with a strong interest in campaigning against violence against women. She also founded The Kings Tribune

  • For confidential support and services around sexual assault, contact 1800 RESPECT online or by phone on 1800 737 732. If you or someone you know needs help, contact Life Line on 13 11 14
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