Misogyny Is Ideological — So Why Aren’t Gender-Based Attacks Considered Terrorism?

On Saturday, April 13th, 2024, a man walked into Westfield Bondi Junction and murdered six people — five women and one man. Reportedly, 12 further victims were hospitalised — largely women — including a nine-month-old baby.
In the immediate aftermath of the horrific attack, police were careful to inform the public that the incident did not appear to be ideologically motivated. The following day, NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb told reporters that investigators “don’t have fears of [the perpetrator] holding an ideation — in other words, that it’s not a terrorism incident.”
But the public sentiment about the incident evolved quickly as Joel Cauchi’s identity was revealed and more details of the attack emerged; specifically, that he appeared to target women. Cauchi’s father said his son had a long history of mental illness and struggled with both social skills and romantic relationships. By Monday, Webb’s messaging on the investigation into the attack had changed slightly — it was now “an area of interest that the offender had focused on women and avoided the men.”
Regardless of what the investigation will eventually reveal about Cauchi’s motivations (it’s too early to say, and not helpful to speculate), the attack has raised a broader question for Australia to grapple with: should authorities treat misogyny as an ideology when it comes to crime? And how would that change the way we tackle violence against women in Australia?

What does Australia define as terrorism?

In the Criminal Code Act (1995), the features that distinguish terrorism from other kinds of crime are more vague than you might expect. To be considered an act of terror, the perpetrators must intend to “advance a political, religious or ideological cause” and aim to intimidate or coerce either the government or a “section of the public” with an act that causes serious harm, damage or threat.
Some incidents clearly fall under this definition: the 2014 Lindt cafe siege; the 2019 Christchurch mosque massacre committed by an Australian white supremacist who killed 51 people; and the 2022 Wiemballa police shooting, which is considered this country’s first Christian-extremist terror attack. On Monday night, just two days after the attack in Bondi, a teenager stabbed four people at a church in Western Sydney, which police quickly and confidently labelled an act of terrorism.
Because our official definition of terrorism was created in the aftermath of September 11, it’s not surprising the focus has been on political and religious motivators (disproportionately impacting the Muslim community — a point worthy of its own discussion).
So where does that leave the ambiguous phrase hanging on the end — “ideological cause”?

Misogyny is an ideology — it's the hatred of and deep prejudice against women, the belief that women should be subordinate to men in all aspects.

Misogyny is an ideology — it's the hatred of and deep prejudice against women, the belief that women should be subordinate to men in all aspects. It sits at the heart of many other beliefs that police and authorities do categorise as ideological motivations for violence.
In 2020, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) said up to 40% of its caseload involves far-right extremism. White supremacy, Neo-Nazism, ultranationalism and every flavour of religious extremism promotes the subjugation of women. Based on this, public displays of violence that intend to intimidate women could very well come under Australia’s definition of terrorism. 
This question is being asked globally.
In November 2023, a Toronto teenager was sentenced to life in prison for murdering 24-year-old Ashley Noelle Arzaga after the judge ruled the crime was an act of terrorism motivated by incel ideology. The judge said 17-year-old Oguzhan Sert’s act was “accompanied by language denoting hatred for women… designed to make clear that his acts were in the name of incel ideology.”
In 2021, the Plymouth shooter Jake Davison, who shot dead five people including his mother, was also active in incel forums and posted misogynistic content online; police were criticised for not categorising this as an act of terror. That same year, Robert Aaron Long killed eight people in Atlanta, targeting Asian women working at massage parlours because he wanted to eliminate the “sexual temptation” they represented. In this case, one domestic terrorism charge was included in the long list of charges he faced. 

Recognising misogyny as an extremist ideology, rather than a normalised social belief, is long overdue.

The distinction between violent crime and an act of terrorism is important, as the label unlocks different resources, involves different policing bodies and — to be frank — can command a different level of seriousness from both authorities and the public. Experts are warning that the rise of incel subculture, fuelled by high-profile violent men like Andrew Tate, is radicalising boys and young men. It’s one thing for those kids to grow up and participate in casual sexism, but quite another for those misogynistic beliefs to evolve into social grievances they are encouraged to solve through violence. 
ASIO director-general Mike Burgess has said the agency is tracking an increasing number of incels and ‘violent misogynists’. “They’re motivated by a fear of societal collapse or a specific social or economic grievance or conspiracy," Burgess said. "The average age of these investigative subjects is 25, and I’m particularly concerned by the number of 15- and 16-year-olds who are being radicalised. They are overwhelmingly male.”
Even though the national security agency is evolving its understanding of ‘ideological motives’, it seems Australia’s police organisations aren’t doing the same. Perhaps there is a reason why institutions with long histories of sexism, racism and homophobia are reluctant to view misogyny as the potential grounds for terrorism.
One thing is clear: the current approach to prevention, policing and justice is having no impact on Australia’s epidemic of violence against women. Recognising misogyny as an extremist ideology, rather than a normalised social belief, is long overdue.
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