“Go From Victim to Survivor”
We have a number of concerns about this poster.
Firstly, the idea of moving from a victim to a survivor implies there is a correct, linear path that women must travel down before they are 'fixed' and that this must happen within a specific time frame. The implication is that a woman who does not travel down this route remains 'broken'. This is simply not a helpful way of discussing domestic violence and abuse and this is without acknowledging the fact that some women do not like the label survivor.
Some women do want to change the behaviour of the abuser, but many others know that their abusive current or former partner will not change. Instead, they concentrate on trying to manage the person in order to decrease the abuse directed at themselves or their children. Others remain in a relationship because they have nowhere to go and others because they know the abuser will kill them if they try to end the relationship. Women are the best judge of what makes a situation safe for them. We need to listen to individual women and not assume that, as professionals, we know best.
Secondly, reaching out to others is an important step to take but we must recognise that women are not always believed when they reach out. Women need to be able to access specialist support from people trained within the field. Reaching out to "couples counselling" or "anger management" programs will not help. We need to be clear on the importance of specialist services and the fact that they are disappearing across the UK.
Thirdly, "educate yourself" is a rather patronising catchphrase. It implies that women living with domestic violence and abuse are not smart. Women who live with domestic violence and abuse come from all walks of life: some live in poverty and others live in mansion houses. There is no correlation between "education" and experience. If we are going to use the phrase education, then we need to acknowledge the myriad of reasons why women are not in a position to "educate themselves" starting with language barriers, literacy skills, and ending with a controlling partner who will not give them the space to access information to "educate themselves".
Fourthly, women do not experience domestic violence and abuse because they lack "firm boundaries". They experience domestic violence because a male partner makes a choice to engage in a pattern of coercive controlling behaviour that may also involve physical, financial or sexual violence. Suggesting that women lack firm boundaries is both unkind and inaccurate.
Ending domestic violence and abuse requires focusing on the behaviour of the perpetrator and giving women the specialist support they need to live their lives. We need to be clear in the language we use to help women. This is why we are equally concerned about the catchphrase "cocoon, protect, serve". Women who are living with domestic violence and abuse need access to non-judgmental specialist services who will support them. They do not need to be 'cocooned'. They need space to make decisions for themselves. One of the defining characteristics of domestic violence is control, which decreases the ability of women to make decisions about their own lives. An important first step for services working with women is to give them the space to think and to act - not to 'cocoon' them.