One in Four…

Raising awareness about issues related to domestic & dating violence

Violent Language and the Power of Words June 23, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elizabeth Johnson @ 2:00 pm

In a society which normalizes violence in so many different ways, we often over look one of the most prevalent sources of this normalization: language.

We often underestimate the tremendous impact that language has in shaping our thoughts and perceptions about the world.   Examining language, for example, that is used to describe sexual and domestic violence exposes the prevalence of victim blaming in abusive situations.  Headlines rarely read “Man kills woman” they almost always state, in the passive voice, “Woman was killed.” 

While we know most men do not abuse the women in their lives, ninety five percent of the time domestic violence takes place, it is male violence perpetrated against female victims.  This refusal to place blame with abusers assuages perpetrators of domestic violence of their guilt and reinforces victim blaming and doubting with questions like “Why does she stay?” instead of “Why does he batter?”.  This problematic language ignores a fact:  abusers make the conscious choice to abuse victims.  Victims of domestic violence do not ever deserve their abuse. To not name the perpetrator is a grave offense against the men and women who speak out against their abusers.

What can you do?  Think about the language that you use in your everyday life.  Phrases that have become ingrained in our vocabulary often have violent connotations we don’t even consider.  The Mid-Valley Women’s Crisis Center compiled a list of ninety six violent phrases used in everyday speech.  What comes to mind when you hear phrases like:

-Hitting on an idea

-Beats me

-Take a stab at it…

-When push comes to shove…


-Twist your arm…

-Take a shot at it…

-Bring out the big guns…

-Locked and loaded…

-Blown away…

-If looks could kill…

When we change our language we change the way our brains process information.  We also become stronger advocates and allies for the survivors of any kind of violence.  Change your language by:

1. Making a conscious choice about the way you discuss articles/stories about abuse or violence.  Does your comment or question sound like you are blaming the victim?

2. Eliminate violent language and phrases like those about from your vocabulary.  What can you say instead of “that kills me?” or “Give me the blow-by-blow…”?

Make conscious choices about the ways you discuss abuse and also about the violent terminology used in everyday life.  When we make these small changes to our behavior, we begin the process of ending domestic violence entirely.


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