Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse


As a sociologist the contexts in which events take place have always been a touchstone in my thinking.  With respect to violence against women and girls one of the earliest insights from feminist research was the challenge the notion of the home/family as a safe place, a ‘haven in a heartless world’.  The family turned out to be an extremely unsafe space for women and children.

Theorising about contexts became more significant when successive United Nations, and therefore globally influential, definitions of violence against women conflated forms of violence and the contexts in which they take place.  This much cited descriptive definition is contained in the 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women:

(a) Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation; (b) Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring within the general community, including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women and forced prostitution;  (c) Physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the State, wherever it occurs. 

The elisions that take place here are unhelpful, serving to disguise the ways forms of violence traverse contexts: sexual abuse of girls can take place in and outside the family; rape in households is not limited to those that take place in the context of marriage; family members may be involved in sexual exploitation and trafficking.  In teaching, I began to encourage students to separate forms and contexts and to explore what makes some contexts more conducive.



This article was first published by Discovery Society on 1.3.16. You can read the full article here.

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