Parched for truth — dehydrated — victims appreciate ANY water, but it’s better to give them pure rather than muddy water.
Victims of domestic abuse have been so parched for truth. When we read a teeny bit of truth, we feel like we have had a cup of pure water and we rejoice!
But as we develop our discernment about the right and wrong use of language in regards to domestic abuse, we quite often realize that what we thought was a cup of pure water was in fact somewhat muddy water. The slightly muddy water was magnificent to imbibe at the time — it stopped us from dying of dehydration! But as we go on and become more skilled at this stuff, we realize that the water we drank did need a bit of filtering.
We believe we have so many links to good resources at ACFJ; why encourage our readers to spend their precious time drinking water that is a bit muddy?
As one of our readers wrote to me when I explained this analogy to her, “I am becoming ‘very well hydrated’ here and on Dr. Simon’s blog, and daily equipped to discern better and better.”
As time has gone on, we have become more aware of victim-pathologizing and victim-blaming language and have fine-tuned our discernment, thanks to the work of people like Dr George Simon, and Allan Wade and his colleagues at Response Based Practice. For me, Barb, this has led me to realize that resources which seemed really good to me some years ago are in fact somewhat problematic.
What are some of the things we have become more discerning of?
When the victim is called an ‘enabler’, that concerns us.
We need to articulate this carefully. A survivor may be happy to say of herself, “I enabled the abuse by staying.” Other survivors are not comfortable being called ‘enablers’ — they hear it as a negative label on them, yet another form of victim-blaming. Because the term is heard differently by different people, we believe it is inappropriate for anyone other than the victim herself to call her an ‘enabler’. We do not judge or seek to correct any victim who calls herself an enabler or a victim-enabler. But we do discourage putting that label on anyone other than yourself.
‘Shouldisms’ — telling victim/survivors what they should do.
Sometimes people who use shouldisms actually use the ‘s’ word (should) when talking to victims. Sometimes they don’t use the word ‘should’ but the effect is still the same: they issue orders to victims, instructing them what they must do.
Rather than telling victims what they should or must do, we believe in offering information, educating readers about the mindset and tactics of abusers, and suggesting options which they may like to consider. We encourage victims; we don’t order them around. We underline that the victim has her own agency and we must not overshadow that, because that is exactly what the abuser has been doing to her — trying to stop her from having her own agency. The victim is free to make her own decisions in her own time; we honor that. We seek to help victims think through their own situations and weigh up the pros and cons of various actions they might like to take, with safety in mind as well as long-term goals and aspirations.
Pathologizing victims — using language that depicts victims as deficient or defective or pathological in some way.
Rather than pathologizing victims, we elucidate and honor the ways victims resist abuse — the many strategic and judicious ways they maintain their dignity and personhood despite the abuser’s constant attempts to corrode and erode their happiness, confidence, dignity, liberty, agency and safety.
Further reading on Victims’ Resistance