The Power of Words


The Power of Words

by Laurie Williams

Today I came across a post that caught my attention. Actually, it was a two-word phrase within the post that pained me. This is not the first time I’ve heard these words, even from professionals, and I feel I need to bring attention to it. Awareness, after all, can be the beginning of change.

We often use words or terms without much thought, yet words have such an impact. The phrase I read today was “your abuser” The term was used by an agency that hopes to provide empowerment to folks who have been victimized by domestic violence. The clients often refer to themselves as survivors. They have gone through horrifically dangerous times, been lost in a world of confusion and chaos, and lived mostly in survival mode. Many have nearly lost their lives at the hands of domestic terrorism. Some are still in the decision-making place. None have chosen the path they are traveling or have traveled on.

‘So, why does the term disturb me so much? Simply, because ‘your’ is a possessive pronoun. It’s a small word with a huge impact. When someone says “is that your children, your home, your car, your family, your idea, your feelings”, etc I feel a sense of pride. I feel a sense of ownership. For survivors who have separated from the person who abused them, they have dug deep to accomplish what they had so longed for, some risking their lives to do so. For survivors who are with the person who is abusive, there is nothing they want more than for the abuse to stop or to get away. All survivors want to be disconnected from the abuse and terrorism. For me, the term ‘your abuser’, gives a sense of connection and ownership, leaving one with a feeling of relationship and a connection that will never end.

In my professional life working with survivors and offenders, I have focused on the words we use and the impact they have. Words also became a focus in my personal life as a survivor. I facilitated a survivor group in which I introduced a discussion of the power of words. These amazing, strong determined women decided “my abuser” was a connection they needed to omit once and for all. It gave the offender too much power. Omitting the term ‘your’ or ‘my abuser’, was one more step toward omitting the feeling of possession and connection to the person who had abused or is abusing them. The words became ‘the one who abused me’ or ‘abuses me’. The group felt a sense of freedom from being possessed or owned with a change of a few small words. They shared that by creating that invisible line of separation they felt empowered and independent, as all survivors rightfully deserve.

My intention is not to police your words nor suggest that anyone who has experienced domestic violence must use certain language. Instead, I ask that you take a moment to pause in contemplation of the power of the words you use. They make a difference.

"Behind Closed Doors: A Special Virtual Reading"


Behind Closed Doors, the riveting original play written by 15 survivors of domestic violence and members of SOAR, returned to a virtual audience on May 12, 2021. This play, which premiered in 2012 and has been performed to sold-out audiences throughout the years, is a true account of domestic violence, hope and survival.  The play draws audiences into the lives of survivors to dispel the stigmas of this often misunderstood abuse, making Behind Closed Doors a must-see event.
Intended for mature audiences only: Explicit Content, Strong Language
"It was the most compelling presentation regarding domestic violence I have seen. With real life stories presented in a creative way, the play took the audience from early warning signs of domestic violence, to psychological control and physical abuse, to escape and finally ongoing survivorship; it encompassed all aspects of the cycle of violence. The strength of the women presenting their stories was inspiring on many levels. Everyone should view this play, especially young people starting out in new relationships."
-Peter F. Kilmartin, former Rhode Island Attorney General
"Behind Closed Doors was such an inspiring, educational, and emotional presentation. Going in, I was prepared to listen to women's stories about domestic violence, but I had no idea that I would be leaving with a realization of how common and destructive domestic violence is."
"I would like to start off by saying that this was the most influential school event that I have been to in my college career. The courage that these women put on display to tell their stories was something that I had never seen before. I am thankful that I was there to witness it."

Gray Areas

word cloud CWW[March 31, 2021] It is a common misconception that when women leave their abuser, things get better. Because there is help through police, advocates, or courts, many believe the domestic violence ends. This is not always true. In fact, what usually takes place is this: Abusers find new ways to abuse - often through children. 

I left my ex when our child was young. After leaving my ex, I endured harassment, break-ins, assaults and a vile and vindictive character assassination aimed at destroying me – all done at my ex’s hands. These experiences were traumatizing and compounded the PTSD I experienced from the abusive relationship. As time went on, his vendetta became clear to some of the professionals we worked with, and they understood my child and I were in fact victims of his abuse. But it was not enough to stop the abuse.

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A Survivor's Perspective: The Criminal Justice System

Image result for court hearing[February 16, 2021]  I spent two years with someone who frequently abused me, both physically and emotionally. Each time I would try to leave, my abuser would physically restrain me within the apartment in which we lived. When I reported the abuse to police, he would be arrested but was typically bailed out on the same day, returning back and continuing his abuse. At the time, I had nowhere else to try and flee to.

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The One Who Witnessed

Silhouette of mother holding her baby child hand and coming to camera —  Stock Video © Alexeg84 #149163360[November 30, 2020] As a child who witnessed domestic abuse, I believed abuse was only physical.  I saw daddy hitting mommy too many times. I was too young to see the other forms of abuse that took place under the surface. The emotional abuse and manipulation my mother suffered were just part of the family dynamic.

As an adult, I found myself in an abusive relationship. The abuse was subtle in the beginning.  I was a social butterfly, but any time I had a conversation with someone other than him, he would accuse me of cheating. He called me names and humiliated me in front of his family, making me feel guilty for just being me. When he wanted intimacy, instead of caressing me, he’d grab me, making me feel that intimacy was a duty and role I had to play.  He made me feel guilty for going to work, as his interpretation of being a mother was staying at home with the kids and not working.  He believed the only role of a woman or wife was to be submissive. What I believed did not matter.

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