Cairns woman Toyah Cordingley, 24, died violently at a deserted beach.
Cairns woman Toyah Cordingley, 24, died violently at a deserted beach.

Let’s talk about terror

59 women gone.

59 Australian women with hobbies and jobs, quirks and strengths, families and friends.

59 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.

24-year-old Cairns woman Toyah Cordingley was found dead a day after walking her dog along a remote beach. Her killer remains at large. Picture: supplied.
24-year-old Cairns woman Toyah Cordingley was found dead a day after walking her dog along a remote beach. Her killer remains at large. Picture: supplied.

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 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.

As utterly horrifying as it was, it is you’re more likely to die from a crocodile attack than a terror attack like the Lindt siege. Picture: Chris McKeen
As utterly horrifying as it was, it is you’re more likely to die from a crocodile attack than a terror attack like the Lindt siege. Picture: Chris McKeen

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.

In May 2018, Peter Miles (left) murdered his wife Cydna, daughter Katrina Cockman (right), and his four grandchildren before taking his own life. Picture: Facebook
In May 2018, Peter Miles (left) murdered his wife Cydna, daughter Katrina Cockman (right), and his four grandchildren before taking his own life. Picture: Facebook

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?

Some people are trying to save more women from the same fate, of course. Destroy The Joint - a Facebook movement that tallies the number of Australian women murdered each year - is one of them. The Australian Femicide Map - a project created by News Corp journalist Sherele Moody that puts names, faces, and stories behind those who have lost their lives to violence - is another. Others, like the Andrews' Victorian state government, see the problem for what it is and allocate funding accordingly (last year $1.9 billion was allocated towards addressing family violence and the government agreed to implement 227 recommendations from the Royal Commission into Family Violence).

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.

Michelle Andrews is a podcast host and freelance writer from Melbourne.