It was with shock and dismay – as well as worry – that I read of the recent ordeal of Madeleine Pulver of Sydney, Australia. As she studied for school exams at home, the 18-year-old was assaulted by a man in a balaclava (for non-UK readers, a balaclava is a knitted garment pulled over the head that can cover everything but eyes – originally designed as protection against Crimean winters, it’s become the garment of choice for people disguising their identity) who threatened and hurt her, then attached her to a device he said was a bomb, and left. With Madeleine, he left instructions not to call police (telling her he’d left a phone attached, and, hearing authorities called, he would remote-detonate the explosives) as well as an extortion note signed with the name of a character from a television show.
Though Sydney police aren’t saying exactly how events occurred, they summoned bomb squad experts, entered the house and cleared the area – Madeleine’s parents were kept at bay for their own safety – and eventually detached the young woman from what turned out to be a very sophisticated fake. Madeleine’s relieved parents thanked all who helped and gave special gratitude to the officer who spent hours with their daughter, with little regard for her own well-being, so Madeleine wouldn’t be left alone.
So far, the perpetrators have not been found.
In 2007, another Madeleine – spelled the same way – was also harmed by strangers. She was only three years old. Madeleine McCann was apparently snatched by an unknown man in a Portugal vacation spot while traveling with her parents and small siblings. Although her photo was copied and publicized worldwide, neither she nor her body has yet been found.
Especially in the US, we currently spent millions of dollars and person-hours each year attempting to thwart terrorism by foreign agents. Yet what of the domestic terrorism happening right under our noses? If some of the money spent on scanning people and luggage in airports, on personnel hired by various agencies tasked with identifying prospective terrorists (hint: copy Israeli expertise, and profile), could be funneled to combat domestic terrorism, we would all be better off.
By terrorism, I mean anything that fits the definition: “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce”. While the term has been used to define concerted action against a state, terrorism need not be a group activity, and restricting its use to the merely political hampers its application to all sorts of activities that involve “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce”.
Thus rape – which has been long proven to be about control and power, not sexual longing – is terrorism. So is intimate partner abuse, regardless of the sex of the parties involved. Terrorism is kidnapping a small child, or placing a realistic-looking “bomb” around the neck of an adolescent in expectation of a cash pay-off by frightened parents.
If those actions aren’t violent and threatening, what is? If they aren’t intended to intimidate and coerce action from the victims or their families, then what more does it take for that standard to be met?
In the UK, the recently proposed “Clare’s Law” (named for a woman murdered by a man she met online) mandates that, when asked, police reveal whether the person one is dating has exhibited violent behavior in the past. It’s a start. Only 23% of people intimidated within an intimate relationship actually file charges, and many male police force members – even in solidly Western countries – are unsympathetic to “domestics”.
If they were being threatened by a man up to a foot taller, who weighed one-third more than they did, perhaps the seriousness of such violence and threats would be self-evident to even the meanest intelligence.
That’s why we need to fine-tune, to rename, because naming a thing accurately gives power over it.
It’s not “just” a domestic beating. It’s not “merely” a kidnapping or “only” rape.