There it was again. A story in the newspaper about a domestic violence case where the writer referred to it as a “domestic dispute.” What a charming way to minimize violence. And make it sound mutual. A “dispute.” That beings to mind two people having a disagreement over something. There is an issue in “dispute” that could be reasonably resolved.
A “dispute” does not conjure up violence in my mind. It sounds mild, calm, and peaceful. A “dispute” sounds like there is some equality in the situation.
Language matters. When we minimize violence by using words that make it more acceptable, we diminish the victims of violence. We make the victim’s experience more palatable; more normal. At the same time we make the victim’s experience less dangerous; less frightening; less meaningful. If we diminish the true violence, then others don’t have to feel so compelled to action or to make judgement against violence. With neutral language we allow people to be safe and secure in their misbelief that family violence is rare and doesn’t happen to people they know.
A “dispute” makes it sound like bones are not broken, psyches are not destroyed, and children who witness it are not harmed. A “dispute” doesn’t involve the kinds of coercive control that are hallmarks of domestic violence.
The article I saw this week involved a homicide. A domestic violence homicide. It was not a “dispute” history, but a history of violence. It’s not a disagreement but one person exercising power and control over another person. It’s one person who exercises entitlement over someone else. It’s a reign of terror. It is not a “dispute.”
Pay attention to language, especially minimizing language. It is domestic VIOLENCE. That word matters.
The next time you see a news report that refers to it as a dispute, notice how that changes the impact. If you really care, call that station or that newspaper and talk to the person who wrote the article. Or write a letter to the editor.
It’s violence; not a dispute.