Book Sale

Tuesday 24 March 2015

The Real Threat is at Home

In 2001 on a warm spring morning, I was woken up a couple of hours before school, the news was on, my family was in shock. On the T.V. screen in the lounge room I remember seeing a building with smoke billowing out of it, then I saw another that looked the same. The twin trade towers had both been struck by passenger planes, and then the Pentagon, 2996 people were killed (Statistic Brain 2014); among those killed were 10 Australians (Sutton 2013). Within a year Australia would be at war in Afghanistan, helping the U.S to hunt down the attackers – the Taliban.  

Just over a year after this, “…on 12 October, 2002, 202 people, including 88 Australians, died when a bomb went off at the Sari nightclub in Bali’s Kuta district. A further 209 people were injured” (Thomsen 2015). Australia would not seek to go to war in Indonesia to track down the perpetrators, as there was no need, the Indonesian police arrested and prosecuted the terrorists who committed the attack. But in the national psyche, this attack justified the War on Terror that Australia had already committed to. This bombing had struck close to home, in a popular holiday spot frequented by Australians, and these terrorists, and all like them must be stopped. They were killing civilians and breeding horror where there should only be joy, and life, and all things normal.

Over the course of this early part of the 21st century, the threat that terrorism holds, and specifically the Islamic kind, has grown in the minds of many westerners. But all told, since 1978, 113 Australians have been killed in terrorist attacks; this number includes those killed at home and abroad (Keane 2014). Now 113 Australians killed in terrorist attacks is 113 too many, but alongside of this has existed a much more pervasive threat, one which is much closer to home – domestic violence.

From 2003 to 2012 between 700-1000 women and children have been murdered by their partners or parents in domestic homicides (Keane, 2014). Add to this statistic that between 2008-2010 75 males were killed in domestic homicides incidents (Oneinthree), and we can begin to see, that while terrorism holds a grand threat in the media headlines, an Australian is much more likely to be killed by someone they live with, and likely love (or have loved), than by a random person with a bomb under their shirt, or in their car. I don’t want to be seen to be minimizing the threat of terrorism, and indeed the socio-psychological effects of a terror attack, but it says something about us as a people, that when a terrorist attack happens, no matter the size or the impact, the media go crazy, social media even more so, and there are calls for the police to do something, politicians do grand speeches, and promise tighter restrictions on visas and new laws to track down suspected terrorists. But the much more common, and perhaps in the mind of some mundane act of domestic violence, and even murder, hardly causes people to bat an eyelid. “Oh, that is terrible!” “What a poor women!” “That man murdered his own wife?” These seem to be about the extent of our reaction, and then we move on with our lives, not realizing that a woman, or even man down the street (one in three victims of current partner violence during the last 12 months (33.3%) and since the age of 15 (33.5%) were male [oneinthree]), or child, is living in a daily terror, fearing for their lives, and is much more likely to be killed by their husband, wife, or parent than any of us are likely to be killed by a terrorist of any stripe.

Did I say terrorist of any stripe? Because surely a man (and the majority of domestic violence is committed by men against women [Domestic Violence Prevention Centre, 2015]) or perhaps woman who is abusing their partner, wife, husband, or child, is as much a terrorist as someone who does similar violence in the name of some god, or ideology. But our problem is that when we hear about a terrorist attack in a Bali night club, or inner city cafĂ©, our immediate thought is “that could have been me”, or someone we know, and so our minds race with the perceived threat of violent terrorists. But when someone is abused, or even murdered by their husband, or wife, or parent/s, we think to ourselves, “That could never be me,” and we move on with our lives, without giving it much thought. But the sad reality is that the real threat for too many Australians is at home…and I mean at home, in the four walls of the house where people lay their head, some permanently because the person they live with, and once probably loved deeply, has become for all intents and purposes a terrorist of high magnitude, and has stolen the life they should have held precious.

Politicians play up terrorism like it is the greatest threat to face civilisation, who was it that stated that ISIS presents an ‘existential threat’? I don’t remember, but when it is known that “…just under half a million Australian women reported that they had experienced physical or sexual violence or sexual assault in the past 12 months (Domestic Violence Prevention Centre, 2015) and 119, 600 men reported “current partner violence” in 2012 (Oneinthree, 2013), we can see there really is an existential threat to a lot of Australians. This threat doesn’t come in the form of someone with a bomb in their car, or axe under their jacket, but in the form of the average person, someone we likely even know.

The home should be a safe place, a place where people can rest after a day’s work, enjoy the sound of laughter as their children play with their new toys, a place to relax and watch some T.V. in the evening, a place where a good book can be read, and a home meal enjoyed, and most significantly a place where the next generation of Australians is nurtured and brought up to lead this country into the future. But when you read that “…most incidences of physical assault against women in the 12 months prior to 2005 were committed in a home (64.1%) (Domestic Violence Prevention Centre, 2015),” and that “32.3% (almost one in three) victims of reported domestic violence by a current or ex-partner (including both physical and emotional violence and abuse) were male” (Oneinthree, 2013), it makes you angry, it makes you sad, it makes you want to do something, because a home should not be a place where fear reigns, but love.

As a Christian minister I cannot help but think that the church can take a positive step in tackling this issue. It is a real problem, one that exists in our communities, in our neighbourhoods, and sad to say, in our churches. We need to begin by creating an environment where the abused feel safe to come forward and the abuser feels the full force of the wrongness of what they are doing. We should not leave families to deal with this on their own, as we are called to “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).

We are also called to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Pro. 31:8-9).  If there is one thing that an abused person often feels, it is that they do not have a voice, or that they are too afraid to use it. We need to speak up on their behalf, to be their champions, and defend their cause. It is well known that women are often too afraid to tell anyone, or that even when they do tell someone, they are afraid of what will happen when action is taken. They may have children, or other family, who are in danger, and so they often suffer in silence, carrying the burden of abuse, which is not fair on them. But many people do not know that men were less than half as likely as women to have told anybody about partner violence, to have sought advice or support, or to have contacted the police” (Oneinthree, 2013). The reasons for this are perhaps complex, but in either case, we need to create church environments where people are given a safe place to speak, and report those who are abusing them. And if we see something, or note something, we must speak on their behalf and defend the rights of people in need.

But perhaps even more importantly, we must check our rhetoric, and language on this matter. There has been much anti-male rhetoric on the issue of domestic violence, and violence against women in general, and though it is undeniable that a woman is more likely to be attacked by a man, than a man is likely to be attacked by a woman, it’s not a matter of men verse women, but a matter of all men and women against any such violence. Some men are violent to women, and some women are violent against men, but men and women acting together can work towards reducing both types of violence.

I wish I could end this article with solutions to all the issues, and a clear move forward. But the truth is I don’t have all the solutions, but I do know that creating safe environments for the abused to seek refuge, and to share their pain, and swift action in seeing perpetrators of  domestic violence bought to justice, will make a difference. I also would like to see the government redirecting some of their billions away from terrorism, and data retention schemes, and towards support for victims of domestic violence, because the truth is, for a lot of Australians, the real threat is at home.          

List of References

Sutton, R 2013,