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Letter from Elsewhere: Bringing Terrorism Home

Anne Else's Letter from Elsewhere

Bringing Terrorism Home

Around 7 am on September 12, 2001, I came awake to hear Geoff Robinson describing something so extraordinary, I thought at first he must be talking about a new disaster movie.

The final number of deaths directly caused by the three suicide plane attacks on the USA was 2,752. That’s a terrible total. It’s around two and a half times the number of women (1,194) who died in the USA that year – and every year since - at the hands of a male “intimate”.

That same year, more than half a million American women (588,490) were victims of nonfatal violence (not including sexual violence) committed by a male intimate. Such cases made up 85% of victimizations by intimate partners. The American Medical Association points out that domestic violence is the single greatest cause of injury to women.

Checking the US statistics is easy. New Zealand statistics are much harder to come by, as a recent report on “Creating a culture of non-violence” highlights.

But between 2000 and 2004, 54 women were murdered by men they were or had been associated with, and 3 men were murdered by their female partners. In just 44 days, between November 20, 2005 and January 3, 2006, six women were killed by their partners or ex-partners. Those women were the mothers of 19 children.

So what’s all this got to do with 9/11?

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines terrorism as the “systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular “political objective”. I don’t think the men who murder women they are, or have been, “intimate” with have any conscious idea of creating a “general climate of fear” or of bringing about any “political objective”. I don’t suppose the makers of the endless stream of TV dramas centring on women being killed by men they know have any conscious idea of this either. (Try searching on the net for this topic - half the sites will be about fictional murders.)

But that’s exactly what it does. Hundreds of women do live in fear of the men they live with, and are likely to be a great deal more compliant as a result. The latest New Zealand study, reported in the New Zealand Medical Journal, []
says that approximately 1 in 3 ever-partnered women aged 18-64 report experiencing at least one act of physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner, and around 5 percent report experiencing this within the previous 12 months. A total of 18 percent have experienced severe physical violence (not including sexual violence).

This is much higher than the incidence of reported cases, of course. Police estimate that they record less than 5 percent of all family violence. Even so, in 2001 85 percent of reported family violence cases involved women as the victims.

Now here’s a little profile of terrorists I read recently:

  • Many have been described as "loners" with few friends, dating back from childhood, and poor social skills.

  • Other terrorists show signs of anti-social personality disorder or even psychopathic personality disorder.

  • However, many terrorists are outwardly normal - "I never thought that a person such as him would ever do such a thing" (quoted in a documentary about the Madrid bombers).

It comes from Wikipedia – not the most reliable of sources, I know, but I was struck by how closely it resembles the discussions I’ve seen of men who abuse their partners.

When it comes to terrorism, New Zealand is supposed to be a pretty safe place. But for women, it’s not. Choose the wrong man, and you’ll end up living in terror – or dying of it.

It’s now clear that the death toll from 9/11 is still mounting. People are dying from the toxins they breathed in, that day and for many days after, while they worked on and around the World Trade Centre site. Nearly 70 percent of those who responded have suffered new or worsened lung problems since 9/11; many are not getting better, and some have already died. []

Officials, including New York’s Mayor Bloomberg, are hell-bent on denying that the events of 9/11 caused their illnesses, partly because there are large health care cost implications. []

Is that the problem for women too? Does it just seem too expensive to deal effectively with the complex, long-term fall-out from violence by male intimates?

The costs of not dealing with it are even higher. For starters, the medical researchers who carried out the New Zealand study I quoted above go so far as to say that for women, “intimate partner violence may be as significant a factor as poverty in terms of contributing to ill-health”.[]

Cost is obviously not the only issue. The ongoing battles over 9/11 fall-out are partly political. The never-ending battles over intimate violence are political too. Just as it was far too difficult and painful for US authorities to admit that 9/11 was not just about a few groups of warped evil-doers who “hate freedom”, so it seems to be far too painful and difficult for New Zealand, and many other countries, to admit that violence by male intimates against women is not just about a few sick individuals who don’t know any better, so that all the women need is a protection order, and all the men need is an education programme.

The NZ Herald recently reported that the number of protection orders granted in the Family Court fell from 4066 in 1999 to 2645 last year. Meanwhile the number of recorded assaults by males against females rose from 6949 to 7526. Each month, more breaches of protection orders are recorded than there are new protection orders granted. Officially, around 35 per cent of the men who are ordered to undertake programmes to prevent violence do not complete them. But programme providers say about half of men ordered to do the courses don't turn up.

Even when they do, it may not be much use. Te Whakaruruhau Women’s Refuge say that sending men to education programmes, “as if these are a ‘cure-all’”, has had one clear result: now “we have a nation of male batterers who are better able to articulate their reasons for beating their partner”. []

As for the level of battering – that’s much the same as it was ten years ago.


- Anne Else is a Wellington writer and social commentator. Her occasional column will typically appear on a Monday. You can subscribe to receive Letter From Elsewhere by email when it appears via the Free My Scoop News-By-Email Service

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