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Australia must act now on its crisis of male violence and misogynist ideology

Posted By and on April 24, 2024 @ 12:59

NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb has said it was ‘obvious’ that the Bondi shopping centre killer, Joel Cauchi, was targeting women. 

The Victorian town of Ballarat is reeling after three women were murdered within a few months. Former test cricketer Michael Slater has again been charged with a range of crimes relating to assault, stalking and intimidation of a woman. 

These are just a handful of cases that were in the media last week. There are new headlines this week. 

Yet Australia has failed to maintain a serious, national and ongoing conversation about violence against women. A renewed conversation must galvanise change and action that includes combatting the subset of violence that is driven by a misogynist ideology. 

The federal government should seriously consider setting up a royal commission. This would pour sunlight on this crisis and generate independent recommendations across a suite of crucial issues. The government should also hold all social media companies to a higher standard, look at hate speech laws and clarify the types of violent extremism that are subject to terrorism laws. 

Australia’s 2022-23 National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children described violence against women—often a physical expression of misogyny—as ‘a problem of epidemic proportions’. 

As Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said in a recent major speech: ‘We have a crisis of male violence in Australia. It is a scourge in our society and it must end.’ 

So far this year in Australia, more than one woman per week has been killed by a male perpetrator (11 more than this time last year). And Indigenous women are eight times more likely to be murdered, with scores of cases remaining unsolved.  

Misogynist hate speech in Australia has become all too normalised. Often driven by a view that equality for women and diverse groups means inequality and disadvantage for men, an incredible 23 percent of Australian men find it acceptable to use sexist or misogynistic language online. The same survey also found almost one in five Australian men said it was acceptable to share intimate images of a woman online without her consent. 

Hate speech is flourishing online, especially across social media platform X, less-mainstream platforms and unregulated forums such as 4chan and incel forums. Incels are a thriving global Internet community of men who identify as involuntary celibates, a subset of which are ‘misogynist incels’ who hold more extremist views, including actively dehumanising women, glorifying violence and adhering to a male-supremacist ideology. 

So far, there is no public evidence that the Bondi killer engaged with or was inspired by incel ideology, and a key focus has instead been the state of his mental health. Nevertheless, some incels are celebrating and glorifying the horrific event online. 

A recent ASPI research report on incels examined how online spaces, from popular social media sites to dedicated incel forums, provide a platform for the expansion of misogynistic views and gender-based violent extremism. Adults with such ideological views have a platform for unfettered expression and impressionable or curious teenagers can access this filth in seconds. And Australians are indeed accessing these sites: the ASPI report showed Australians visited one particular incel forum more than 42,000 times between April and June 2022 alone (accounting for 1.8 percnet of the website’s traffic during that short period).

Of course, not all violence against women is ideological. But, at times, law enforcement has been too quick to rule out, or even consider, misogynistic and Incel ideological motives in violent cases.  

In February 2021, Matthew Sean Donaldson invited a 26-year-old sex worker up to his five-star hotel room in Sydney. Donaldson had read numerous articles about women being murdered. He used a knife to remove the woman's undergarments and, after a debate about the morality of sex work, the 43-year-old struck the woman multiple times with a hammer. He left her with significant head and body wounds, then sent her a message that read, ‘You should have chosen a different profession, dear.’ 

Donaldson was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his late 30s and is now being treated with medication. He had also been an active trawler on Incel sites. At the time, NSW Police did not consider whether Donaldson was also motivated by an ideology driven by misogyny. 

We have become far too accustomed to many of the extremist misogynistic behaviours that underpin much of Australia’s crisis of male violence. 

The Albanese government has given more policy attention to these threats, but events this year have made it clear Australia needs to take more urgent and decisive action. 

The Australian government should include gender-based hatred and advocating violence against women under the definition of criminal hate speech. The federal government should also clarify that ideologically motivated male supremacist misogynistic violence can be subject to our existing terrorism laws. 

The Australian government must also hold social media companies more strictly to account—both big platforms and the less mainstream ones that often escape attention from Australian regulators—for hate speech, harassment and viral disinformation.  

Finally, the Australian government must give urgent consideration to establishing a Royal Commission into gender-based violence, including misogynistic violence. 

A Royal Commission could investigate this violence in all its forms—domestic violence, harassment, sexual assault, stalking, coercive control, online abuse and homicide. The commission would need to examine a range of issues including the use of online and artificial-intelligence technologies in such crimes as well as the resourcing and accessibility of our mental health systems to those who need it. It would need to look at extremist ideologies that come in the form of lone wolves with fixations or internet subcultures that promote and encourage violence against women. 

All these topics need greater attention, resourcing and a joined-up approach from law enforcement, policy and security agencies, welfare bodies and community groups. These are difficult challenges, but we know similar royal commissions on disabilities, child sexual abuse and aged care have helped shift the dial on systematic and complex issues. 

A Royal Commission would give this epidemic the national attention it deserves, and it would help inform and lead the national conversation that Australia needs.

Article printed from The Strategist: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au

URL to article: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/australia-must-act-now-on-its-crisis-of-male-violence-and-misogynist-ideology/

[1] is reeling: https://www.9news.com.au/national/ballarat-rally-held-in-victorian-city-after-alleged-murders-of-samantha-murhpy-rebecca-young-and-hannah-mcguire/8bcaf360-d1e7-4ebb-b539-09a5f4c8268f

[2] has again: https://www.smh.com.au/national/he-blew-up-my-life-domestic-abuser-michael-slater-s-victims-speak-out-20221110-p5bx4z.html

[3] charged: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2024-04-16/michael-slater-collapses-bail-denied-stalking-assault-charges/103728650

[4] new: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2024-04-23/man-charged-murdering-young-woman-forbes-faces-court/103756950

[5] conversation: https://twitter.com/clareoneilmp/status/1782938095731839169

[6] driven by: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/misogyny-often-connection-between-overlapping-far-right-ideologies

[7] said: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2024-04-19/dreyfus-says-men-need-to-step-up-in-domestic-violence-crisis/103743900

[8] 11 more: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2024-04-24/eleven-more-women-have-died-violently-compared-to-last-year/103759450

[9] eight times more likely: https://theconversation.com/new-research-reveals-harrowing-stories-of-murdered-indigenous-women-and-the-failure-of-police-to-act-205655#:~:text=Indigenous%20women%20are%20eight%20times,attributable%20to%20intimate%20partner%20violence

[10] unsolved: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2024-02-03/ms-bernard-murder-of-indigenous-women-why-not-make-the-news/103419100

[11] same survey: https://www.smh.com.au/national/new-research-revealing-australian-attitudes-towards-women-shocks-two-former-prime-ministers-20220309-p5a2yj.html

[12] flourishing online: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/15/technology/hate-speech-israel-gaza-internet.html

[13] social media platform X: https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/social-media/x-twitter-elon-musk-nazi-extremist-white-nationalist-accounts-rcna145020

[14] less-mainstream platforms: https://www.politico.eu/article/fringe-social-media-telegram-extremism-far-right/

[15] ASPI research report on incels: https://www.aspi.org.au/report/incels-australia-ideology-threat-and-way-forward

[16] less: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/chinas-cyber-interference-narrows-in-on-australian-politics-and-policy/

[17] mainstream: https://www.aspi.org.au/report/buying-and-selling-extremism

[18] viral disinformation: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2024/apr/15/false-claims-started-spreading-about-the-bondi-junction-stabbing-attack-as-soon-as-it-happened