5 Reasons we need to change our language about domestic abuse

May 13th, 2016 by Avital Benedek


When we consider and discuss domestic abuse, especially when we view it as outsiders and not as survivors, it’s easy to fall back on the same old language. For decades, our society has been dismissing, blaming, shaming, and misrepresenting the dynamics of domestic abuse.

It is crucial to change our language, not only to better educate the public about what abuse is and how it affects individuals, but also to help support survivors as they recover and find strength after enduring abuse.
There are 5 main points where we can understand why we should change how we speak about domestic abuse.

1. Domestic abuse does not only affect women

I want to be very clear about this: statistically, violence against woman occurs at a much higher rate than violence against men. It is crucial that in the conversation of domestic abuse, we leave room to speak and inform the public about domestic abuse in LTBTQ relationships as well as domestic abuse when the survivor is a man. Let’s not forget that domestic abuse is not limited to physical violence. There is also emotional and financial abuse as well. However, since this is an issue that greatly affects women, it is important not to diminish their voices and retract the efforts that need to be made as a society to address masculinity and dominate male culture.

However, another reason to consider leaving the conversation open to the subtleties of domestic abuse, is because framing women as weak and submissive only further perpetuates the idea that women are indeed weak and therefore more susceptible to (and inherently deserving of) abuse. In addition to gendering, we need to find more empowering language in general to speak about victims and survivors. But, we’ll get to that in a bit.

2. Victims vs. Survivors

You will find varying opinions about the difference in these two words. When helping a loved one or a client through their healing process, it is important to check in and see how they view themselves. Some folks are not yet comfortable with the word “survivor” and some with the word “victim.” However, in general, news reports, main stream media, and even the medical field could afford from changing their vocabulary. “Survivor” is a word that suggests strength, perseverance. Survivor includes, but is not limited to, victimhood — it rises above it. It can often transform the healing experience of individual once they feel they are able to claim this word.

3. Commonality

Perpetrators are often seen as some sort of super villains, or good people turned monsters. But the reality is that much of domestic abuse goes unnoticed because we overlook its normalcy. We focus on the big, gut-wrenching, night time news-worthy stories. A loving husband who suddenly and brutally murdered his wife, for example. Truth is, abuse is not so befuddling nor rare. Much of abuse is born out of a culture of supporting dangerous masculine qualities and supporting the idea that woman are weak. We must start to understand that domestic abuse happens often and in ways that don’t inspire Lifetime movies, but that actually affects thousands of people every year.

4. No one “allowed” it to happen

We need to stop asking survivors how they allowed this to happen. Asking survivors to explain why they “allowed” such an abusive relationship to occur assumes that they are to blame. It operates on the assumption that they are somehow responsible for their abuser’s actions and had a choice in controlling it. Aside from obvious power and strength differences, there is also so much psychological abuse that survivors are constantly faced with traps or emotional barriers.

5. No one is “guilty” for staying

We always ask why the person stayed in a relationship. We do this instead of inquiring what made them feel as though they could not leave, why others aware did not intervene. More importantly, we do not ask how they got the courage to leave! We need foster a language of support and tolerance. We need to be patient with folks struggling in domestic abuse and foster an environment where they feel supported once they do feel like they have the courage to leave. However, placing guilt, blame, or shame on someone who endured physical or any type abuse stunts us as an empathic society, and prevents true healing to occur.
Together, as one large community, we can embrace all the individual experiences of abuse. We can change our language to foster positive and supportive environments. We can shift our views to help change the way domestic violence continues to affect thousands. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT. If you would like to learn about ways to heal or support your loved one in the healing process, the World Wide Transformational Summit will be offering many opportunities to learn from healers about their techniques to help move

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