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Victim-Blaming vs. Survivor-Centric Language: An Essential Conversation


Introduction

You might be asking yourself, "Another post on sexual harassment? Have not we covered it all?" While it might seem like we have been down this road before, there is a crucial piece of the puzzle we have yet to fully explore: the power of language. Words are not just words; they are catalysts for change or barriers to it. They can either fuel the fire of victim-blaming or serve as a beacon of support for survivors.


Now, you might recall our previous conversations on this pressing issue. Voices Unheard: A Feminist Insight into the Silent Storm of Sexual Harassment. peeled back the curtain on the unspoken experiences many face. Gender Inequality in the Spotlight: The Controversy Over Consent in Spain's Women's World Cup 2023.challenged us to take immediate action against patriarchal norms. Shifting the Narrative: Breaking the Chains of Silence urged us to disrupt the status quo from blame to empowerment.


So why dedicate a fourth post to sexual harassment? Because transforming our language is the next critical step in changing the narrative from victim-blaming to survivor-centric dialogue. It is not just about creating a supportive environment; it is about dismantling the words and phrases that have perpetuated harmful stereotypes for years. Are you ready to join us in making this essential shift?


The Impact of Blame-Shifting Language in Conversations on Abuse and Assault


How Clothing Comments Shift Blame

  • Clothing is often the first thing people notice, and unfortunately, it's also frequently used as a point of blame in cases of abuse and assault. This is part of a broader cultural issue that perpetuates victim-blaming attitudes.

  • Phrases such as "She should not have been wearing that short skirt" or "What were you wearing when it happened?" or "That outfit was just inviting trouble." insinuate that clothing choices are somehow responsible for the abuse or assault.

  • Is it not absurd that we still think attire could ever be a reason for such horrific actions?

The Role of Timing and Location in Victim Accusations

  • The blame-shifting often extends to the survivor's choice of location or time, as if being out late or alone somehow invites assault. This narrative severely limits freedom of movement.

  • The notions that "She was asking for it by walking home alone at night" or "Why were you out so late?" or "A decent woman would not be in that part of town at that hour." are not just damaging; they are dangerous.

  • Why should the freedom to move be restricted by the fear of assault?

Expectations to Resist: Another Form of Shifting Blame

  • Resistance or the lack thereof is another area where survivors are unfairly burdened with blame. This notion reiterates harmful ideas about "fight or flight" responses.

  • When we say things like "She should have fought back harder" or "Why did you not fight back?" or "If you had screamed, someone would have come to help," we are putting the onus on the survivor to have prevented the assault.

  • Should the focus not be on why the perpetrator felt entitled to commit the act in the first place?

Gender Stereotypes as Excuses in Assault Narratives

  • Deeply ingrained gender stereotypes serve to excuse abusive behaviour.

  • Phrases such as "Boys will be boys," "You should have known better," or "Men cannot help themselves around a pretty woman," perpetuate these harmful gender stereotypes.

  • Do we not owe it to future generations to dismantle these tired clichés?

Accusations of Attention-Seeking or Lying: Undermining Survivor Experiences

  • Accusations that the survivor is seeking attention or lying further perpetuate the culture of silence and shame around abuse and assault.

  • When phrases like "She is just trying to get attention" or You are ruining the perpetrator's life by speaking out," or "Are you sure you are not overreacting?" are used, they undermine the survivor's experience.

  • Are we so quick to doubt survivors that we would rather believe in the innocence of the perpetrator?

The Empowering Impact of Survivor-Centric Language


Shifting the Focus: Responsibility and Survivor Experiences

Changing the language from victim-blaming to survivor-centric is the first step in creating a supportive community where survivors can seek justice and healing. Statements like "The perpetrator is responsible for the crime, not the survivor," "It is never the survivor's fault," or "You did nothing to deserve this," illustrate this shift.


**Reflective Question**

Could this change in language not be the start of a more compassionate dialogue?


**Call to Action**

Start today by holding those responsible accountable, not the survivors. Use your platforms to spread awareness and correct those who perpetuate victim-blaming.


The Importance of Support and Compassion

Support and compassion are not just emotional responses but powerful tools for survivor recovery. Phrases like "The survivor deserves support and compassion," "You are not alone," or "I am here for you, how can I help?" can go a long way in helping someone heal.


**Reflective Question**

Is it not high time we offer a hand instead of pointing a finger?


**Call to Action**

Reach out to organisations that support survivors and find out how you can contribute. Sometimes a simple message of support can make all the difference.


Context Matters Less Than You Think

Too often, the focus is shifted to incidental and secondary factors like time and alcohol, which should never be an excuse for someone else's harmful actions. Phrases such as "It does not matter what time it was; this should not have happened to you," "Alcohol is not an excuse for someone else's actions against you," or "No matter the situation, you did not ask for this," emphasise this point.


**Reflective Question**

Should we not aim for a society where everyone is safe, regardless of the circumstances?


**Call to Action**

Educate those around you that incidental and secondary factors are never an excuse for abuse or assault. Challenge comments that suggest otherwise, both online and in everyday conversations.


Encouragement and Empowerment: A Survivor-Centric Approach

Empowering survivors to speak their truth and take control of their narrative is vital for both individual recovery and societal change. Statements like "You did the best you could in a difficult situation" or "You have the right to speak your truth" can make all the difference.


**Reflective Question**

Why should survivors not feel empowered to own their stories?


**Call to Action**

Share stories of empowerment and recovery, with consent, to give hope and inspiration to others. Your voice can be a powerful tool for change.


Concluding Reflections

As we draw the curtain on this series of posts on sexual harassment, let us not forget that the battle is far from over. We have peeled back layers, called for action, shaken things up, and today we focus on the words we use. Our words can either be shackles that bind or keys that unlock. They can tie us down or set us free. So what is your choice going to be?


Language is a powerful tool for change, and it starts with each one of us. Adopting words that put the survivor first is not only supportive but it challenges deep-seated societal norms that have perpetuated victim-blaming for far too long.


**Reflective Questions**

  • Are you ready to be an agent of change?

  • Are you ready to make that commitment?

  • Will you be more thoughtful in the words you choose to use, knowing the impact they can have?


**Call to Action**

The conversation does not end here. As we get closer to the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, use this post to spark deeper, more meaningful discussions and actions. Correct people who shift the blame and elevate conversations with words that put the survivor first. Let us make this more than a moment; let us make it a movement.


**Final Note**

The next time you find yourself in a conversation about abuse, assault, or any kind of unfair treatment based on gender, pause. Take a moment. Think about your words. Are they contributing to a culture of blame or are they helping us move towards a kinder, more understanding world? The choice is yours, so choose wisely.


Join the Conversation!

The narratives surrounding sexual harassment are not just individual experiences; they are collective cries for transformation. Breaking the silence around this issue is not solely a feminist quest but a matter of human dignity. Together, we can shape a society that values the safety and dignity of all its members.


  • **Reflect on** Have you or someone close to you encountered barriers to speaking out about abuse or harassment? What emotions have you or they felt when silenced or dismissed? Do you recognise the immense influence of silence in shaping lives and determining futures?

  • **Consider** What tangible steps can you take, starting today, to pivot the conversation from victim-blaming to survivor empowerment?

  • **Ask Questions** Your curiosity fuels our conversation. Ask, explore, and let us unravel answers together.

  • **Connect with Others** Engage, respond, cultivate connections. Our community grows through interaction and shared insights.

  • **Respectful Dialogue** Celebrate diversity while maintaining respect. Every voice is valued here, as is your empathy. Please refer to our commenting guidelines for more information.

  • **Social Sharing**Found resonance in these words? Share this post, spread the awareness, and be a part of the change.



About the Author

Nite Tanzarn is an Independent International Consultant widely respected for her fervent advocacy for gender equality and women's rights. In this latest post, she tackles the transformative power of language in shaping conversations around sexual harassment. Drawing from a blend of personal insights and broader social understandings, Nite writes in a manner that is both relatable and inspiring. Her writing mirrors her commitment to social justice and improving the lives of women globally.


She is not one to merely theorise; Nite puts her words into action. Her consultancy work extends across various sectors like transport, agriculture, and rural development. Each project she undertakes aims to uplift women's status and inspire collective efforts towards a more balanced future.

Gender Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity: Championing the Balance

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8 Comments


Guest
Oct 17, 2023

We fear to speak out becuase we fear to be blamed...it is always our fault because we were out late or not dressed decently

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Nite Tanzarn
Nite Tanzarn
Oct 17, 2023
Replying to

Your comment resonates deeply and highlights the heart of the issue surrounding victim-blaming. The fear of unjust blame and judgment often silences the voices of those who endure harm, perpetuating a culture of shame rather than support. This conversation aims to shift the narrative, promoting a survivor-centric dialogue which honours resilience and seeks justice, rather than assigning blame. The road towards a more empathetic discourse begins with acknowledging the harmful effects of victim-blaming and actively choosing a language of empowerment and understanding. Thank you for your courageous insight.

Cheers,

Nite

#NITETANZARNIntellectNest

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Mireille Kwizera
Mireille Kwizera
Sep 08, 2023

victims need to be affirmed not judged.Thanjs for highlighting this.

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Nite Tanzarn
Nite Tanzarn
Sep 08, 2023
Replying to

Hi Mireille,

Thank you for your thoughtful comment. You are absolutely right; affirming survivors is crucial in creating a supportive environment that fosters healing and empowerment. Judgement has no place in these sensitive matters. Your input underscores the importance of the survivor-centric approach we advocate for.

Cheers,

Nite

#NITETANZARNIntellectNest #SurvivorCentric #NoJudgement

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nsabimana canisius
nsabimana canisius
Sep 04, 2023

We are all responsible

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Nite Tanzarn
Nite Tanzarn
Sep 04, 2023
Replying to

Hi Canisius,

Thank you for your succinct yet powerful comment. Indeed, we are all responsible for the language we use and the culture we help create. Your statement serves as a reminder that combating victim-blaming and fostering a survivor-centric environment is a collective effort. Each of us has a role to play in making our communities safer and more empathetic.

I appreciate your engagement in this crucial conversation.

Cheers,

Nite

#CollectiveResponsibility #SurvivorCentric #EndVictimBlaming

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Jennifer Nantale
Jennifer Nantale
Sep 04, 2023

Thank you Nite for highlighting these issues that are obstacles to the fight against SGBV. The magic words should be sorry this happened, I believe you, it is not your fault and how can I help. I have seen grandmothers in busutis raped, 3 year olds defiled, boys defiled/raped, etc so this is not about dress, or location or time or whatever excuses people come up with!! Enough is enough....we need to change the way we respond if we want this vice to stop, more people to report and for justice to be served.

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Nite Tanzarn
Nite Tanzarn
Sep 04, 2023
Replying to

Dear Jen,

Thank you for your heartfelt comment and for contributing to this crucial dialogue. Your words resonate deeply with me and many others who are committed to combating SGBV. The examples you have shared are harrowing reminders that victim-blaming is not only unjust but also perpetuates the cycle of violence and silence.


You are absolutely right; the focus should be on empathetic and survivor-centric responses like "Sorry this happened," "I believe you," "It's not your fault," and "How can I help?" These are the phrases that can make a world of difference in the life of a survivor, encouraging them to seek justice and healing.


Thank you for standing with us in this fight to change societal attitudes and…


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