Words CAN make a difference

When Tracy, Bonnie’s executive officer suggested I attend FACS Domestic Violence training I thought “Why send me, the Administration Officer?”

But she knew better. I must admit, I found myself regularly feeling unsure how to respond to people when they enquired about my work. They often would say “What a shame a place such as Bonnie’s is needed”. And I would agree with them, not knowing how to respond.

The training provided many light bulb moments. The most memorable was an activity where the group listed all the popular explanations that you hear to the questions “What CAUSES domestic violence?” The group was told, “Remember you don’t have to believe in these theories, we just want a range of different ideas”. Each participant wrote as many causes as they could think of, on different coloured post-it-notes. Then the post-it-notes were placed on butcher’s paper according to who was held responsible in each DV statement. There were three categories: Woman, Man and Other. One of my statements was “the woman annoyed him”. This was placed under the “The woman was held responsible” category. Another statement was “alcohol”. This was placed in the “Other held responsible” category.

After everyone in the group placed their statements on the three lots of butcher’s paper, everyone looked on in astonishment: Two of the sheets of butcher’s paper were covered in coloured post-it notes. The third page with the heading: “Man held responsible” was totally blank.

Had we made a mistake? Did we misplace some of the post-it-notes? We searched but there was no mistake to be found. I was shocked. There was not one statement that blamed the man, out of the SIXTY written statements. The entire group was stunned and silent. Why? Why had no one included a statement that puts blame on the man? What does this say about society and its education on domestic violence?

I now use this insight in my everyday interactions: with my colleagues, the women and children I work with, my external contacts and with family and friends. I now interact with more confidence. I discovered that we need to make the man visible and responsible for his behaviour. In turn, this assists the women to see that they are not to blame.

We can do this through simple actions such as what we write and say. Changing the structure of a sentence can change its entire meaning. Look at these two sentences: “Beryl was hit by George” and then “Beryl was hit”. Can you see the difference? The second sentence takes George out of the picture, makes him invisible.

I began to see that our work at Bonnie’s can influence this blame perspective. Including George back into the story means that he is held accountable for his actions. Wow! I now do the same in my own conversations. By changing the way we speak about domestic violence we can influence society’s perceptions. And most importantly we can assist the women at Bonnie’s and all around us, to heal.

This learning has been so valuable. Now when someone says “What a shame a place such as Bonnie’s is needed” I respond by saying “Yes, it is a shame that men continue to use violence to control women and women have to leave for their safety”. With my words, I can make a difference!

Written by Sandra

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