Domestic Violence
Words Are Powerful

Language, or word choice, has a tremendous impact on what we think of ourselves and each other. Think back to a time in your childhood when someone called you a name, or said something derogatory about you. You can probably remember the exact words they used to humiliate or degrade you. Words are extremely powerful.

Survivors of domestic and sexual violence experience the impact of negative words every time someone questions their actions or doubts their experiences. People often underestimate the importance of choosing appropriate language to discuss the issues of domestic and sexual violence.

For example, following a homicide/suicide in Sheridan, Oregon, a local newspaper headline read: “Couple leaves behind two small children.”

To read the printed words, one might assume that the woman made a decision to abandon her children. In reality, this woman was murdered by her husband. A more accurate headline might have read: “Husband beats wife to death”.

Today, many in our society want to ignore men’s violence against women. It’s not uncommon to read an entire article about domestic violence without encountering any gender-specific terms. When a former President wrote a letter on the seriousness of domestic violence, he never referred to men as perpetrators. However, the truth is that 95% of the time that domestic violence takes place, it is male violence perpetrated against women.

Words are powerful. That’s why at The Illinois Valley Safe House Alliance we are constantly evaluating our language to consider how we might best communicate the truth about violence against women and children and place the blame where it belongs – on the abuser.

We have changed the way we talk about violence against women and children. For example, we used to say, “Every eight seconds a woman is beaten in the U.S.” Now we say, “Every eight seconds a man beats a woman in the U.S.” We reframe “Why does she stay?” with the question, “Why does he batter?”

We avoid the terms violent relationship and family violence which suggest a relationship problem or that everyone in the family is violent. These terms miss the truth – they miss the opportunity to make it clear that one man is making the choice to be violent.