The Correlation Between Domestic Violence And Terror Is Distressingly Stark
The Debrief: The men who massacre the public are the same men who butcher women privately in their own homes - the same principles of power, control, fear and violence apply
Khalid Masood, the Westminster attacker, has joined a growing list of domestic violence perpetrators-turned-mass murderers. Before him, there was Omar Mateen - the Florida nightclub killer, and Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, who drove a truck onto a crowded promenade in Nice last year. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers, had previously been arrested for domestic violence too.
Masood’s ex-wife describes him as ‘violent, controlling, psychopathic’ and left him after three months of marriage. Mateen’s ex-wife has said he would ‘assault her while she was sleeping’ and she left after only four months of marriage. Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was ‘known to authorities for assault and abuse of his wife’. As the attacks add up, the correlation between domestic violence and terror is distressingly stark. But are state responses addressing this fact?
It’s already known that 98% of mass killings are perpetrated by men, and The New York Times found that almost a third of mass shootings in the USA in 2015 were reportedly related to domestic violence. To add to the above list, Cedric Ford, a man who shot 17 of his colleagues with a rifle, was known for abusing his ex-girlfriend. Man Haron Honis, a gunman who killed two people in a cafe, was on bail as an alleged accessory to the murder of his former wife.
As I wrote in last summer after several of these incidents, the connection between domestic violence and mass murder makes perfect sense. The former is an intimate form of terrorism that uses violence and intimidation to keep control of one target, and the latter is an escalation of this that extends to multiple targets. However, media profiles of these men treat their history of domestic violence as a passing detail. Only one form of ‘terrorism’ is considered a national security threat, despite the fact that as many as 1 in 4 women will experience such intimate terrorism in their lifetime. Let’s repeat that: 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Nonetheless, ‘national security’ initiatives overlook the literal daily security of women.
The men who massacre the public are the same men who butcher women privately in their own homes. The same principles of power, control, fear and violence apply. If we start viewing domestic violence through the spectrum of terrorism, we can resolve two types of national security crises - in our homes and on our streets. The first step is to rebrand ‘domestic violence’, which hints at a private problem, to ‘intimate terrorism’, a more accurate term that locates it on a continuum of violence that the state has a remit to tackle.
State responses to domestic violence
Women are not safe from male violence, and state responses are shambolic. Every week in the UK, two women are murdered by a partner or ex-partner. Last year, Rape Crisis received 3,000 calls per week. Nevertheless, women are routinely failed by state systems, from housing offices to police, to judges. Just this week, news emerged that a judge ruled a man could walk free after forcing his wife to drink bleach, beating her with a cricket bat and forcing her to take tablets ‘to kill herself’. After trying to destroy his wife, he was sentenced to a suspended 18-month sentence and a workshop titled ‘building better relationships’.
This is not a unique case. Women’s Aid found that only one in five domestic violence service users had seen criminal sanctions or proceedings against their abuser. Justice is hard to come by, and not all survivors want criminal sanctions or to engage with the police or defunct prison system. This is unsurprising given the traumatic stories that regularly emerge: like the case of the woman who was fined by the police for wasting their time when reporting her fears about her boyfriend, who went on to murder her. Or the case where police officers were recorded calling a domestic violence survivor a ‘b**ch’ and ‘f***ing slag’.
These stories and statistics paint a clear picture: the state doesn’t take violence against women seriously, or worse, is complicit in it. The only agencies that help are specialist domestic violence support services, trusted by women to help them navigate the justice system and bring abusers to account. These services are also usually the only agency in local areas to engage in domestic violence prevention. However, in the UK at least, these life-saving services have almost all their funding stripped away through austerity. Meanwhile, funding for ‘counter-terrorism’ initiatives appears plentiful, with project funding readily available to different organisations, including charities. Could it be that the UK is looking in the wrong direction?
Khalid Masood was not known to or involved in Islamic extremist groups, but this is what the government’s racially charged ‘Prevent’ strategy hones in on. This strategy is based on racial profiling and increased government surveillance powers, and has been critiqued by a UN special rapporteur as more likely to ‘promote extremism’ . Nevertheless, despite increasing criticism and inconclusive evidence of its impact, the government are committed to strengthen this approach. With every new attack, the government appear intent on stripping further privacy rights away from citizens, instead of considering the evidence at hand and bolstering domestic violence response.
Suppose, for a moment, that governments had a strategic and well-funded approach to tackling domestic violence. Would these attacks still happen if domestic violence was viewed on the terrorism continuum? It is a national security problem affecting at least half the population in intimate settings, and many more once the violence escalates into mass murder. If this continuum was addressed, women could be safe from daily violence, and the state would be able to identify and disarm intimate terrorists before their violence ensnared multiple victims.
Challenging terrorism on a continuum
When half of the population is routinely unsafe, a drastic revision of ‘national security’ is needed. If terrorism has its roots in domestic violence, then instead of having public transport announcements to ‘report anything suspicious’, we should have strong community-based approaches to tackling and preventing domestic violence. It’s becoming more and more clear that the most dangerous group within society is not, in fact, Muslims but domestic violence perpetrators, so community intervention on intimate terrorism is vital.
Given the failures listed above, and the security threats faced, there is a dire need to improve domestic violence services and think seriously about the way that perpetrators are handled. Not all intimate terrorists are mass murderers, but all the mass murderers listed above started as intimate terrorists. Given the lengths that perpetrators-turned-terrorists will go to, it’s imperative to see their behaviour as a pattern of escalating events that exists on a scale, not just isolated acts of violence specific to one single victim. After all, the actions of an abuser are everything to do with their beliefs and attitudes. Perpetrators seek out belief systems that justify their entitlement, whether that’s fascism (in the case of Steve Bannon, who was charged for domestic violence in 1996 or IS propaganda that ‘exports a hyper-masculine and dominant male identity while glorifying the subservient female role.’
If we want to prevent more attacks like the ones in Westminster, Nice and Orlando, we need to pay more attention to domestic violence. If we want to prevent domestic violence, we need to scrutinise and challenge masculine entitlement to power and control that is endemic in patriarchy. If the mounting evidence is anything to go by, realistic ‘counter-terrorism’ efforts are not increased surveillance, racial profiling and Islamophobic hysteria, but rather dismantling the values and behaviours that normalise masculine supremacy and fuel domestic violence. In the meantime, counter-terrorism means supporting domestic violence survivors to report perpetrators and bring them to justice before they can harm others.
Terrorism is terrorism, whether it’s within our home or on our streets, and abusers will always escalate their violence in order to maintain power and control. If this is what it takes for domestic violence to be considered real violence, then so be it, but both security crises have a common denominator: masculine entitlement. Masculine entitlement, first exhibited through domestic violence and later through mass murder, is the most pertinent national security threat we face.
Janey is a domestic violence expert and campaigner.
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