We need to talk about ter­ror

The Cairns Post - - VIEWS - Michelle An­drews is a pod­cast host and free­lance writer from Mel­bourne

FIFTY-NINE women gone. Fifty­nine Aus­tralian women with hob­bies and jobs, quirks and strengths, fam­i­lies and friends.

Fifty-nine lives once filled with colour and fri­vol­ity and pas­sion — all ended in a storm of fear and pain at the hands of men.

We have al­most two months un­til the New Year, and yet, we’ve al­ready eclipsed last year’s hor­ri­fy­ing statis­tic. In 2017, 53 women died as a re­sult of vi­o­lence per­pe­trated against them. No mat­ter how the next 50 or so re­main­ing days pan out, 2018 has been an ab­ject fail­ure.

We have failed women and chil­dren. And, it ap­pears, we will con­tinue to fail them. Why?

Be­cause the more this prob­lem grows — the more that num­ber creeps up into the six­ties, then the seven­ties and be­yond — the more our ur­gency to act di­min­ishes. The more com­mon and or­di­nary bat­tered women and chil­dren are, the more our brains can man­u­fac­ture a road map for how to make sense of it.

It’s what sci­en­tists and psy­chol­o­gists call ‘dread risk,’ some­thing jour­nal­ist Leigh Sales ex­plored at length in her re­cent book Any Or­di­nary Day.

The more com­mon, repet­i­tive, and pre­dictable some­thing is, the less we fear it. For in­stance, although tens of thou­sands of Aus­tralians die due to coro­nary heart dis­ease ev­ery year, our govern­ment spends ap­prox­i­mately $7 bil­lion on com­bat­ing it an­nu­ally. As for ter­ror­ism — some­thing that has killed 13 Aus­tralians in the last 102 years? We spend $35 bil­lion.

Some­where far, far, far down the line in our coun­try’s list of pri­or­i­ties is fam­ily vi­o­lence, some­thing the Turn­bull govern­ment al­lo­cated a measly $54 mil­lion (yes, mil­lion with an ‘m’) to­wards it in its most re­cent bud­get. A bud­get that was so small that last year, 1800 RE­SPECT — the coun­try’s sex­ual as­sault and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence hot­line — had its fund­ing cut by 75 per cent.

Our brains are fal­li­bly wired to fear ran­dom­ness over surety; the rarer some­thing is, the more we scram­ble to pro­tect our­selves from it. We know women will con­tinue to die at men’s fists. We don’t know when — if ever — the next act of ter­ror will arise.

We know it will keep hap­pen­ing, and so, we don’t equip our­selves to fight it. We’re too busy look­ing un­der our beds. The ul­ti­mate para­dox. As Sales ex­plains in her book, the chance of you or a loved one dy­ing in a ter­ror­ist at­tack like the 2014 Lindt Cafe Siege is mi­nus­cule. Sta­tis­ti­cally speak­ing, you’re twice as likely to die from a crocodile bite. The same can­not be said when it comes to you or a loved one dy­ing as a re­sult of male vi­o­lence.

It’s this flaw in our think­ing — the kink in how our brains as­sess risk — that means women will con­tinue to die en masse. That is, un­less we tilt back to­wards ra­tio­nal­ity, and ac­knowl­edge how ir­ra­tional we are cur­rently be­ing.

The sta­tis­tics don’t lie: We’re dis­tracted, and it’s em­bar­rass­ing.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t spend big money on de­fence and counter-ter­ror­ism — do­ing so can for­tify a na­tion and its peo­ple — but that we should be prag­matic in our spend­ing.

An­nu­ally shelling out $35 bil­lion of tax­payer funds to­wards some­thing that, on av­er­age, kills 0.13 Aus­tralians is poor money man­age­ment. Surely even a staunch con­ser­va­tive can con­cede that.

Our fed­eral bud­get re­flects our pri­or­i­ties. And judg­ing by our spend­ing, we’re putting the tiny chance of a fa­tal ter­ror­ist at­tack ahead of the dozens of women we know will die ev­ery year.

We’re let­ting our shaky and in­her­ently-flawed bi­ases — our emo­tions — dic­tate our most im­por­tant de­ci­sions.

It’s an in­fu­ri­at­ing, be­wil­der­ing re­al­ity when you think about it. How can men’s vi­o­lence against women and chil­dren be so en­demic, yet our gov­ern­ments so im­mo­bile? How can we read the names — Toyah Cord­ing­ley, Ka­t­rina Cock­man and Cynda Miles are just a few of them — and do noth­ing? How can we see the tal­lies rise, one by one, body by body, and carry on rant­ing about spooky shad­ows that may never come to form?

Next year, we’ll be de­cid­ing which party will lead the coun­try. What our pri­or­i­ties are, and who we want to pro­tect.

But for now? We’re de­cid­ing to let more women die.

SAD: Toyah Cord­ing­ley was found dead a day af­ter walk­ing her dog.

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