How Language Matters while addressing the issues of gender-based violence?

Ishika Aggarwal
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gender based violence in india

Where gender-based violence itself is a problematic crime, the language we use, to talk about it adds more to the troubles


With the confusing gender politics of the country, Gender-based violence is among one of the most striking violations of human rights. Gender-based violence is the violence that is subjective to a person’s gender. Both women and men experience gender-based violence but the majority of victims are women and girls. Hence, the patriarchy and male dominance play a significant role here, and in most often cases, the onus of being a victim is put on the victim itself.

What is Gender-Based Violence?

Gender-based violence is the violence that takes place because of someone’s biological sex and gender identity. According to Women for Women International, women are disproportionately targeted by gender-based violence. Violence against women is a serious concern throughout the world, especially in India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics, 3 women are raped every hour in India.

I would be difficult to actually point out how many and what constitutes gender-based violence but broadly, rape, domestic violence, acid throwing, obstetric violence, reproductive coercion, sexual harassment, female infanticide, prenatal sex selection,  online gender-based violence and mob violence; as well as harmful customary or traditional practices. Even mental torture can be gender-based violence if it is somewhere because of gender politics. Although, the most heinous of those are definitely rape and domestic violence.

Now, what is the problem?

While these crimes itself are the problem, what is a bigger problem is with the language with which these cases are reported and talked about. The language used for GBV stories is often seen to be provocative or sensational. Doing so just makes the story into another crime spectacle taking away attention from the real issue at hand. It often turns out to be titillating and salacious words. Often, there is no special attention given to not recount the crime play-by-play as it is not necessary and could lead to the survivor getting triggered. Perpetrators should not be dehumanized and characterized as inhuman monsters, as this leads the audience to believe that such violence is rare and unusual. Under no circumstances should the violence be justified.

Read more: How normal is disapproving accusations of Abuse by saying that the abuser has always been feminist?

The language that victimized the survivor and doesn’t accuse the perpetrator of the crime

Most of the times, when we hear news of any such crime, (rape for example), we often say, “The ‘woman’ has been raped by a man’. Where this appears to be something simply something written in the passive voice, the problem is that the language becomes such that it putting the onus of being raped on the women.

Here are a few news headlines that could add to a better explanation.

gender based violence in india

gender based violence in india

Now in these headlines, had the sentence not been in the passive voice and would have put the impetus on man, the language would have been, “Xyz man raped woman”. As we already know, what we hear and read, we follow the same. When a person reads such headlines, they perceive it like this only. These headlines don’t only victimize women but are giving an imperative that something beyond the dignity of the women has happened to the women for which the women should be victimized.

A language that disempowers the survivor

Using a language that calls a survivor, ‘victim’ is a highly disempowering language. In the first place, as discussed, when the onus is not put on man, the survivor is already victimized, and now, calling them a victim makes the situation even worse.

The language that is justifying the crime

In the case of domestic violence, (for example, normalizing violence because the husband is aggressive, or woman being against dowry etc.) is an act that shouldn’t be normalized in any case. Normalizing mishandling of a woman, giving autonomy to man because of the patriarchal setup is not the right language.

Using language that is victim-blaming

Any comment on the clothes, timing, or on the body of the survivor is nothing but an act of victim-blaming. Questioning survivors for not reporting the crime or not reporting it exactly when it happened, and making it a reason for them not getting justice is also victim-blaming.

Hence this is how the language used while reporting and talking about gender-based violence affects the psychology and perspective of the survivor and the masses. Next time you come across any such case of gender-based violence, be careful of the language you are using, consciously and subconsciously.

Have a news story, an interesting write-up or simply a suggestion? Write to us at info@oneworldnews.com

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