The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines terrorism as “the use of terror especially as a means of coercion”. The FBI defines “domestic terrorism” as activities with three characteristics:
- acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
- acts that appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
- acts which occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S. (therefore “domestic” rather than international)
The legal definition of terrorism in the European Union can be found in the EU Framework Decision on Combating Terrorism (2002) which identifies terrorism as activities with the aim of “seriously intimidating a population, or; unduly compelling a government or international organisation to perform or abstain from performing any act, or; seriously destabilising or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an international organisation.”
In Canada, section 83.01 of the Criminal Code includes in its definition of terrorism “compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act.” Activities recognized as criminal within this context include death and bodily harm with the use of violence; endangering a person’s life; risks posed to the health and safety of the public; significant property damage; and interference or disruption of essential services, facilities or systems (Canadian Dept. of Justice).
With these definitions in mind, it seems clear that the sexual crimes committed against children and women in Canada that are generally labelled “sexual abuse” or “sexual assault” fit squarely within the domain of domestic terrorism. Consider again the above definitions…
– the use of terror especially as a means of coercion
– acts dangerous to human life that violate the law
– acts that appear intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population
– compelling a person to do, or to refrain from doing, any act
Canada, in particular, specifically recognizes (among the criminal acts defined as terrorism): death and bodily harm with the use of violence; endangering a person’s life; and risks posed to the health and safety of the public. According to the National Advisory Committee on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals, there are six distinct types of terrorism. All of them share the common traits of being violent acts that destroy property, invoke fear and attempt to harm the lives of civilians.
The Canadian Dept. of Justice cites several sources on its web site, with these key terms used to describe or define domestic terrorism: violence, threat(s), influence/coercion, fear. According to Hill (2004, 83) victimization through terrorism may be experienced at direct, secondary, and community levels, all of which may vary in terms of the extent and kind of victimization. Staiger et al. (2008) note that although the term “victim” may be used to refer to all individuals that experience some form of direct injury, emotional harm and/or suffering as a result of an act of terrorism, vicarious or indirect victims are individuals that were not direct targets of terrorists, but nonetheless experienced fear, anxiety and other related stressors following a terrorist attack (i.e. the general public). This notion of direct and indirect victimization is significant because it highlights the importance of considering the needs of the general public alongside the needs of victims and their families.
Although there are many issues associated with victimization following terrorist events, trauma has been identified as among the most critical issues victims may face (Miller 2003; Updegraff et al. 2008). Issues particular to victims of terrorism under the broad spectrum of trauma include post-traumatic stress disorder, grief, and survivors’ guilt (Hill 2004).
Consider that roughly half the population in Canada (or the world, for that matter) is female. This surely constitutes a “population” in the definition applied to terrorism. One of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world is violence against women and girls. The United Nations Population Fund says that, “worldwide one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime”.
Now recall the December 1989 massacre of women on the campus of the École Polytechnique in Montreal – more than sufficient violence, fear, threats to reflect the definition of terrorism as set out by Canada, the U.S., and the European Union. Or consider the number of murdered and missing Aboriginal women in Canada. In the National Advisory Committee on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals’ published view, a violent act specifically targeted at women, invoking fear and attempting to harm the lives of civilians, constitutes terrorism.
Now consider that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys in Canada will be sexually victimized before the age of eighteen. Again, this is a specific population (and one of considerable size). Think about the coercion, intimidation, threats, fear, and danger inherent in the sexual assault of a child, and consider again the definition Canada assigns to terrorism, and how it refers to “compelling a person to do, or refrain from doing, any act”. Can there be any valid argument against these crimes meeting the definition of terrorism?
Yes, I’m clearly being provocative. But I’m not at all without conviction about the nature or the impact of these crimes being well within the generally accepted definition of domestic terrorism. And I’m also not alone in drawing these comparisons. France is implementing an internet-blocking initiative as part of an overall anti-terrorism law, and it includes blocking sites hosting child pornography content as well as those advocating acts of terrorism. In Everyday Terrorism: how fear works in domestic abuse, Rachel Pain asserts that “domestic abuse can be considered a form of everyday terrorism. It creates long-lasting fear and trauma, which reinforce the abuser’s control over the abused person. It affects vastly greater numbers of people than global terrorism, and it has impacts on many aspects of society as well as on the individual”.
Recent terrorist attacks on the west are increasingly global in scale, spectacular in nature, and designed to maximise fear (Flint and Radil, 2009). Indeed, having these wider effects on public and state fears is seen as the main intention in the current ‘fourth wave’ of terrorism (Rapoport, 2004). Interestingly, however, evidence from research on recent instances of global terrorism suggests that while incidents cause great trauma for those caught up in them, they are relatively ineffective at creating wider fear (Pain 2010; Rapin 2009). Domestic abuse, on the other hand, directly terrorises people who are abused and their children; it is a way in which abusers exert psychological and emotional control, and it often leads to changes to behaviour among those who are abused. Most of all, domestic abuse, like global terrorism, can be seen as part of a desire to gain or enforce particular forms of political control. Its effects reinforce the social and political structures that produce it.
Lisa Cardyn has written about sexual terrorism: “from the European “conquest” of Native America to the staggering rates of child molestation in the present day, examples of homegrown sexual terrorism are abundant”. She recalls, in particular, the wielding of sex “as an instrument of terror designed to traumatize a despised population into submission” in the U.S. Reconstruction South. Amnesty International recently said “sexual violence is used to destabilise communities and sow terror”, in its Lives Blown Apart report. And in 1995, Michael Johnson published an article about two distinct forms of couple violence taking place within families in the United States and other Western countries – one of these he called patriarchal terrorism. Using research as well as data gathered from women’s shelters, he described some families suffering from occasional outbursts of violence from either husbands or wives (he called this common couple violence), while other families are terrorized by systematic male violence (he called this patriarchal terrorism).
This past week the Canadian government announced additional “anti-terrorism” funds to the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency. According to the National Post, “the RCMP will receive $150.4 million in new money over five years, beginning in 2015-16, and $46.8 million a year after, with the money going to terrorism-related criminal investigations. The border-services agency will get $5.4 million over five years and $1.1 million annually in subsequent years, with some of the funds earmarked for identifying high-risk travelers”. Ironically, the Prime Minister made this announcement in Montreal, citing the threat posed by ISIS, and of Canadian youth arrested as suspected jihadists trying to join the terrorist movement.
This is a substantial amount of money, and it will hopefully be beneficial in supporting the mandates of the recipient organizations. It will not, however, address what is arguably the biggest and most pressing terrorism threat in Canada.
[May is sexual violence prevention month]
 Includes those identifying as female gendered, of all ages, whether trans-gendered, non-binary, or otherwise outside the traditional constructs of the term.