Beyond a violent world: Surviving, learning and moving forward

Survivors of GBV

By Maheen Behrana | This Violence is not a Tragedy

As this collaboration between Candid Orange and This Violence is not a Tragedy draws to a close, we wanted to reflect on some of the lessons that we can take forward in our fight to combat gender-based violence.

When it comes to violence against women and girls, it is vitally important to remember the human impact of this crime. Healing from the experience of such violence takes time and is difficult – but there are ways that survivors can move forward. Essential to the recovery of survivors are the people and broader society around them. We think it is crucially important to consider the ways that we as a society can learn to treat victims and survivors with justice, fairness and openness.

Globally, one third of women have experienced violence from an intimate partner. Some 35% have experienced physical or sexual violence from a non-partner, a figure which does not include sexual harassment. A woman’s world is, sadly, a violent world.

But we should not see these statistics as a reason to give up hope. Instead, they should inform a solidarity and collective spirit for us all to do better, learn more and work towards a better future.

Surviving abuse

If you have personally experienced abuse, the healing process can be very traumatic. Sometimes, before it is possible to heal, we have to truly acknowledge what has happened.

The fact that abuse is often stigmatised makes it harder for survivors to come to terms with their experiences. But here, as a survivor, it is vital to try to validate your own feelings. Many abusers systematically try to break down a victim’s emotional perceptions and convince them that they are being over-sensitive, going ‘crazy’ or behaving irrationally – a form of gaslighting. This means that many who have experienced abuse have a hard time processing what has happened because they have been taught not to trust themselves.

As a survivor you should know that your instincts about your relationship are probably right. If it felt unhealthy, it was unhealthy. You should know that your feelings are valid and you should let yourself feel them.

Once you have reached this stage, there are some steps you can take to move forward. Joining a support group is always an option, as is reaching out to someone you trust. Doing what feels right for you has to be the priority.

Here are some links to useful resources that can be of help for anyone experiencing or recovering from abuse.

Learning and developing

By far the best way we can support survivors of abuse and gender-based violence is to educate ourselves on this violence. If we talk more openly about violence against women, and cultivate a better understanding of the issue across society, this will automatically help us to spot red flags, help those at risk and de-stigmatise the subject.

Before we consider how society can do better, let’s look at some of the simple ways that we can all individually become better at showing support and solidarity with victims and survivors.

  1. Never ask a victim why she didn’t ‘just leave’ her abusive relationship – and call other people out for this question. This is a theme I come back to time and again. Asking a woman why she didn’t leave her abusive relationship misses the point; it puts the onus on the victim for ending their abusive situation, when the onus should always be on the person perpetrating the abuse. Leaving an abusive relationship is really not simple, so do not think asking someone why they stayed (or telling someone to ‘just leave’) is fair. Call others out for asking these questions of victims and survivors. You can read a fuller piece on why it is rarely possible to ‘just leave’ an abusive relationship here.
  2. Be supportive but never intrusive. If someone opens up to you about their experiences of abuse, listen to them and support them. Never pressure them for details that they’re uncomfortable about sharing and do not make your support conditional on them doing something like going to the police. This behaviour will only leave victims feeling more isolated and unsupported. 
  3. Never dismiss a victim’s story just because you know the perpetrator. This is a really important one. If a friend comes forward and tells you her partner has been abusing her, or that she was sexually harassed by one of your mutual friends, do not disbelieve her just because of your preconceptions of the perpetrator. Never fall for the ‘nice man’ myth. People who seem perfectly nice can be abusers, because abuse is not about innate evil but stems from socially embedded discrimination. Call out those who describe abusers as ‘nice men’.

Moving forward

Of course, there remains much to do at the level of wider society. We must advocate for real structural change as we go forward.

There are signs that this may be happening. An improved sex and relationships curriculum, officially introduced in September 2020, may be a key starting point. The curriculum should hopefully start to educate primary school children on what healthy relationships look like. There will be a heavy focus on consent in secondary school, and hopefully we should start to see an increase in the attention paid to the warning signs of abuse.

Additionally, we are now at a stage where we legally recognise coercive control as a form of abuse. Coercive control cases are very difficult to prosecute, but by legally defining and purporting to understand coercive control, we are paving the way for a better general understanding of abuse in society at large.

What we must do now is build on these successes. Women’s groups and anti-violence campaigners certainly have, but all of us have a part to play. We must talk to our friends and family about this issue (just a few quick questions will often reveal how many misconceptions people are labouring under), and we must actively get behind campaigns which seek to make this world a less violent place for women and girls. We must strive to keep learning and educating ourselves, and do our bit to educate others.

Keep strong – and fight the good fight.

To discover more about surviving violence, take a look further information on This Violence is not a Tragedy

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this collaboration, below are some helplines and websites to seek further advice.

National Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0808 2000 247

National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428

The Mix (free information and support for under 25s) – 0808 808 4994