Sydney seige, ‘terrorism’ and violence against women

I was disappointed reading the coverage of the Sydney siege this morning on stuff.co.nz where information about the killer glosses over his acts of sexual abuse and involvement in his wife’s murder. It seems to be a concerning trend that past offences against women seem to become invisible in the wake of high profile cases of tragedies, even though this is extremely relevant to this situation. I have written elsewhere about Ariel Castro who kidnapped, raped and tortured three women for a number of years had a history of violence towards his wife and children and the alleged grooming and sexual abuse of other children. Similarly, in NZ Liam Reed who was convicted of the murder of one woman and the rape and attempted murder of another was previously charged with raping his former girlfriend but had not been convicted of those offences.

It is part of neoliberalism and islamphobia that we come to see these acts of violence as ‘random’ and related more closely with his faith than his actual use of past violence, blatant disregard for life and hatred of women. And indeed this situation is random as it involves people unknown to this man, but it is not random in the sense that given his past behaviour his actions make sense in light of his propensity for violence and sexual violence:

The gunman behind the Sydney cafe siege was facing up to 50 sexual offence charges, according to court documents
The documents allege that Man Haron Monis painted the breasts of women and raped them in his ‘spiritual healing’ sessions
The sessions are alleged to have taken place over 13 years at locations around Sydney
Documents also allege that he threatened to shoot the mother of his two sons around two years before her brutal murder
Monis was on bail and due to face court in February

So instead of a discussion about the extremely high rates of sexual and domestic violence in Australia and the failure of the legal system to act in the interests of women’s and the wider community’s safety by releasing a man who is being charged with accessory to murder and 50 counts of sexual assault and rape what comes to the fore is discussions of terrorism. Rather than a critique of the unwillingness of our societies to address the problem of violence against women, and how if the judicial system took VAW seriously then this man may have never been allowed out on bail I am reading a news article about New Zealand, where this incident is being used to justify the new anti-terrorist legislation which allows the security intelligence service to use warrantless surveillance for 24 hours on citizens and gives them the ability to cancel passports for up to three years.

This legislation highlights that the state can act in highly coordinated and targeted (if unethical) ways to intervene in and control the lives of citizens when they choose to prioritise it. (We can see this most visibly in the Northern Territory Intervention when the Australian government literally suspended the rights of indigenous Australians, see my other post critiquing this).

I do not mean to undermine the importance of this incident and its tragic outcome but rather to highlight that this incident, as well as all the other acts of domestic violence which kills on average one woman a week in Australia are all equally important and worthy of discussion, intervention and prevention.

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