Parties

Australia

  • Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence, Not Now, Not Ever: Putting an End to Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland (Queensland Government, 2015).
    This report commences with an acknowledgement that the term ‘victim’ is most commonly used in the public discourse, despite there being a contrary view that the term is disempowering for the subject individual and a preference is sometimes expressed for the use of the term ‘survivor’ (p4). The terms are then defined and ultimately the authors decide to use the terms interchangeably.

International

  • Ashcraft, Catherine, ‘Naming Knowledge: A Language for Reconstructing Domestic Violence and System Gender Inequality’ (2000) 23 Women and Language 1.
    This article explores a range of communicative options available for framing domestic violence. The author examines how terminology choices have silenced certain groups of women and in some cases, left dominant representations unchallenged. Ashcraft submits that there are various problems with the use of the term ‘victim’ (p5) and notes research has shown that many women, even women who have suffered severe and prolonged instances of domestic and family violence resist the label. The author suggests that this is because the term suggests powerlessness and that some feel that it does not accurately describe their situations, and goes further to suggest that ‘[t]o require these women to accept the victim…label may remove the remaining vestiges of self-esteem and hope that have made possible their survival’ (p5).
  • Dobash, Rebecca, and Russell Dobash, Women, Violence and Social Change (Routledge, 1992).
    This book is framed as a sociological inquiry into the growth of the battered women’s movements in America and Great Britain and the relationship of the movements to local and national institutions. The book opens with an overview of the nature and extent of domestic and family violence and the authors pass comment on the use of the terms ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’. They note that ‘[t]he term “victim” has been used in two ways: implying a master status of individual women (i.e. she is a victim) and as a description of the experience itself (i.e. she was the victim of a violent attack’ (p30). Dobash and Dobash note that use of the term ‘victim’ in the first way is the one most often criticised and replaced with the term ‘survivor’. They see the second use of the term as legitimate and important for describing an individual’s role within the act itself.
  • Fernandez, Marilyn, Restorative Justice for Domestic Violence Victims: An Integrated Approach to Their Hunger for Healing (Lexington Books, 2010).
    Fernandez acknowledges that there is much debate on the appropriate descriptors to be applied to those who have experienced domestic violence, and notes that the terms ‘victim’, ‘survivor’ or ‘targets (of violence)’ are some of the most commonly discussed (p24). The author focuses on the terms ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’ and makes some interesting observations with respect to these two descriptors. In relation to the former, Fernandez notes that although there are some who would argue that the term ‘connotes victim blaming’ there are many who prefer the term ‘because it better captures their experiences, particularly when they were in the midst of the violence and even after’ (p24). On the other hand, ‘survivor’ may be seen as the more empowering term, but the author counters this by submitting that the term ‘minimises the trauma they have experienced’ (p24). Ultimately Fernandez opts to use the terms interchangeably, and uses the term ‘victim’ when violence experiences are described and analysed and ‘survivor’ when help-seeking or rehabilitative behaviour is the focus.
  • Fine, Michelle, ‘The Politics of Research and Activism: Violence Against Women’ (1989) 3 Gender and Society 549.
    The author cites her own research along with that of Susan Schechter and Lynn Phillips about self-descriptors, noting that women who have been subjected to violent behaviour often distance themselves from the label ‘victim’ or more precisely the term ‘battered woman’ (p553). It is argued that popularising such categories portray women as powerless and innocent and does not resonate with those who do not feel helpless, who defend themselves or are ambivalent about their relationship to the person inflicting the violence. The author does not, however, offer any alternative descriptors but rather suggests that it is necessary to understand the consequences for women of the political act of labelling them a ‘victim’ or a ‘battered woman’.
  • Govier, Trudy and Wilhelm Verwoerd, ‘How Not to Polarize “Victims” and “Perpetrators”’ (2004) 16 Peace Review 371.
    Although written in the context of naming parties in acts of political violence, some important comments are made in relation to the term ‘victim’ which can be applied to domestic and family violence. The authors submit that the ‘victim’ label is objectionable if ‘it is interpreted as implying the person harmed is nothing but a passive part in an act in which he or she was hurt by another’ and note that this interpretation has led many harmed persons to insist on the use of the term ‘survivor’ (p371). Govier and Wilhelm object to labelling parties on the basis that it encourages polarized thinking that is simplistic and counter-productive. It is for this reason that they do not endorse the use of the terms ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ and submit that the distinction between the two as ‘logically simplistic, ethically unfair, psychologically misleading and prudentially undermining’ (p371). Unfortunately, the comments made in relation to the perpetrator label have little application in the context of domestic and family violence because the authors’ focus in this respect is on the culpability of persons supporting the use of physical force during political violence.
  • Groves, Nicola, and Terry Thomas, Domestic Violence and Criminal Justice (Taylor and Francis, 2013).
    This book aims to provide an up-to-date and comprehensive introduction to the subject of domestic violence and its interaction with the criminal justice system in England and Wales. The authors dedicate a chapter to naming and defining domestic violence as well as exploring its nature and extent, including the historical and political contexts of related terms. The focus of this book is the criminal justice system response to domestic and family violence and as such, individuals who are subject to the violence are referred to as ‘victims’ rather than ‘survivors’. The authors do acknowledge that the term ‘victim’ has been widely critiqued but ultimately submit that it is the most accurate descriptor despite the fact that ‘those who experience domestic violence are rarely passive victims’ (pxi).
  • Meyersfeld, Bonita, Domestic Violence and International Law (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2010).
    In the introductory chapter to this book, the author raises the important question of whether the term ‘victim’ or ‘survivor’ should be used when referring to a person who has experienced domestic and family violence. There are two important points made in relation to these terms respectively. The first is that the descriptor ‘victim’ can be seen as ‘connot[ing] weakness and vulnerability’ (pxxxiv). Secondly, the author submits that the term ‘survivor’ is ‘problematic in its implied commentary on those women who either kill or are killed as a result of the abuse’ and there is an implication that a person who fails to escape the violence is somehow weak or consented to the behaviour (pxxxiv). Although noting that neither term is ideal, Meyersfeld opts for the term ‘victim’ and occasionally uses the term ‘survivor’ when addressing issues that arise when domestic and family violence is no longer occurring.
  • Moncrieffe, Joy, ‘Labelling, Power and Accountability: How and Why ‘Our’ Categories Matter’ in Joy Moncrieffe and Rosaling Eyben (eds) The Power of Labelling: How People are Categorised and Why It Matters (Earthscan, 2007) 1.
    This chapter is a good foundational resource for understanding the processes and outcomes of labelling people, and how social problems are often framed and dealt with in response to such labels. Moncrieffe explores the intense and complex politics involved in the processes of labelling, noting that the labels ascribed to individuals or sections of society can have both positive and negative effects (p2). Although the author does not address specifically the terms ‘victim’, ‘perpetrator’ or ‘offender’, the usefulness of this source lies in its comprehensive explanation of what is commonly referred to as ‘labelling theory’ through an overview of other influential sources (p6) as well as making suggestions as to how the pitfalls of labelling can be avoided. These include acknowledging the importance of and increasing awareness of the power and impact of labels and acknowledging that any one label is not going to accurately describe the experience of all individuals.
  • Nicholson, Paula, Domestic Violence and Psychology: A Critical Perspective (Taylor and Francis, 2010).
    The purpose of the book is to present theoretical perspectives from the discipline of psychology and research on domestic and family violence to social science academic audience and community service providers. Similar to other authors who have addressed the issue of appropriate descriptors to name parties, Nicholson elects to use the words ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’ interchangeably and does so according to the circumstances in which the terms are being used. The author offers the following example: a woman in a violent relationship at the time is best described as a ‘victim’, whereas a woman who has left a violent relationship and has physically and emotionally lived to tell the tale is to be described as a ‘survivor’ (p30). The author also notes how the use of the word ‘survivor’ has the potential to place a burden on individuals to engage in advocacy for others, thus emphasizing how language used to refer to domestic and family violence frames the context and expectations for those involved.