#Violence against Women – On the Recognition of Experiential Knowledge

“Victim” – “Survivor”: Reflections on the discourse about women experiencing of violence (GERMAN VERSION ) - a POSTSCRIPT on the AOEF Meeting, 5-6.June 2014

By Birgit Wolf

How are women on their way out of violence outside the support services and after separation? What are their life contexts and experiences in three, five or ten years after leaving the violent relationship behind? Indeed, we know very little, except from prevalence studies telling us, that women often experience more than once domestic violence.

Reflections on public and internal debate – where they exist – around the terms “victim”, “affected” by, or “survivor” of gender-based partner violence and their importance for violence prevention would be quite desirable for the development of an empowering approach for 33% of women in the EU experiencing physical and/or sexual violence evidenced by the FRA-study [1] and for the 10% up to over 50% of women globally, as the lifetime prevalence of physical violence by intimate partners by the UN study (2006) Ending violence against women.[2]

Considering the media discourse on the topic of gender-based violence against women in general, we can observe an increase in public interest in the topic. The quality of reporting, however, has remained strong shortcomings. A meta-analysis on the representation of violence against women in the media revealed that the widespread social problem (1) is shown rather as an individual problem, (2) is more likely to be represented in the form of stereotypes and myths, (3) following concepts of sensationalism and dramatization, (4) lacks the reporting of social contexts and (5) thus prevails additionally a lack of clarity and knowledge hindering an adequate understanding of the complex problem.[3] The affected women themselves remain with very few exceptions silent and invisible, the respective knowledge about background and reasons constitute a research gap.

I think it would be imperative, to explicitly document and explore the experiential knowledge affected by gender-based partner violence. Experiential knowledge is based (1) on the knowledge of many similar “cases”, (2) on the knowledge of many “situations” with very different requirements, e.g. awareness of alarm situations; (3) on so-called handling experience including conceivable risks, errors, and possible causes and prevention opportunities, as well as (4) on perception and experience-based, – and because of the already existing (previous) experience – very subtle and differentiated comprehension of present processes.[4] Experience knowledge is created in the process of carrying out of those activities, their successful management is required for (ibid.). I.e. “(Violence) experiential / survivor knowledge is to understand as expert knowledge. Therefore, my perspective on the experiential / survivor knowledge of women affected by violence is a very important concern.

Survivor Groups

Through my research in Spain and conference presentations I met Survivor women as activists, represented by their strong voice at conferences, they conduct their own campaigns, workshops and form their own organizations, such as the Fundación ANA BELLA in Seville, Spain[5] or the SOAR Support and Advocacy Group in Malta[6].

These women as survivors of domestic violence and activists break with the stereotypical portrayal of women affected by partner violence as passive, helpless victims. Rather, their force and efforts, their courage and success of making their way out of the violent relationship are apparent. From their experiential knowledge they develop a very specific support for victims, state their demands and expand existing discourses with their perspective on the problem. This fosters a more comprehensive service offering on the one hand, and an inclusive discourse giving voice to the position of survivors of partner violence as activists / experts.


So far we have not succeeded in Austria to establish a climate that allows women to publicly talk about their experience of violence, without risking stigmatization and prejudice. As an exception, author Karin Pfolz published a book speaking out about her experiences of intimate partner violence and has become an activist.

Women’s shelters as the institutions concerned to accommodate and support women over several weeks or months, are very close to the everyday life and their experiential knowledge on violence, they can significantly contribute to a change in perspective and discourse.

The AOEF-women’s shelters addressed the invisibility and lack of the voice of women as victims of violence and survivors of domestic violence. In January this year, in a specific workshop on media representation, I discussed with the managers of the AOEF-women’s shelters the strong victim-centered discourse manifest in Austria and the invisibility of women who have made their way out. Therefore the AOEF meeting in June was dominated by new impulses on the work in women’s shelters. Employees and managers of AOEF women’s shelters continued this discussion nationwide under the title “victim – affected by violence – survivor: reflections on the public and internal discourse on women with experiences of violence” with Birgit Wolf (concept and facilitation). As a result of the respective press release, the ORF (Austrian Public Broadcasting) presented a short reportage on domestic violence in the ZIB 2 main news with K. Pfolz and B. Wolf: http://youtu.be/9Y6hX-DCOAU

Cite as: Wolf, Birgit (2014). “Victims – survivors: reflections on public and internal discourse on women’s experiences of violence”. Postscript to AOEFF meeting, 5-6.June 2014.

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This article by Birgit Wolf is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Contact: office@birgitwolf.net

[1] European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (2014): Violence against women: an EU-wide survey.
[2] UN General Assembly. 2006. In-depth study on all forms of violence against women. Report of the Secretary-General, 6 July 2006, A/61/122/Add.1.
[3] Wolf, B. (2013a) Gender-based violence and the challenge for visual representation. Comunicació. revista de recerca i d’anàlisi; n.30, vol. 1, Maig, ISSN   2014-0304, ISSN-e: 2014-0444, p. 193-216
Wolf, B. (2013b) Gender-based violence and the media. Representations of intimate pa... In: Oliveira, Victoria (ed.), Intercultural Communication, Representations and Practices: A Global Approach. Book CDRom, ISBN 978-989-98240-0-3, Centro de Estudos Interculturais (CEI), Instituto Superior de Contabilidade e Administração, Instituto Politécnico do Porto (ISCAP): Porto, Portugal.
Wolf, B. (2013c) ‘Shaping the visual’ of gender based violence. How visual discourse on intimate partner violence and European anti-violence initiatives construct accounts of the social world. PhD thesis, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain.
[4] Kaufhold, M. (2006) Analyse und Beurteilung von Verfahren der Kompetenzerfassung.Wiesbaden: VS / GWV, S. 110 ; Plath, H.-E.(2002). Erfahrungswissen und Handlungskompetenz – Konsequenzen für die berufliche Weiterbildung, In: IAB-Kompendium Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung., p. 518 (both: own translation)


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Comment by Getaneh Gobezie on October 27, 2014 at 11:02

Dear colleagues

Very much thank you for this important issue!!

True:-- Tensions in gender relationship within the household may increase as economically empowered women (from supports through microfinance, microenterprise, etc) find it difficult to co-exist with a man with traditional attitude and who feels un-easy with and threatened by the increasingly economically independent and more demanding wife and perhaps reduces his contribution to household expenditures, increase violenemce, etc. Kabeer in 2007? reported cases from parts of Africa. In West Africa, unable to enforce ‘obedient servility’ through the sanction of withdrawing their contributions to wives who might be earning more than them, men complained about the ‘waywardness’ of women and the ease with which women ‘packed out’ when things got rough.

In most other African context however, given ‘polygamous’ marital practices which allowed men to take another wife at any time, thereby increasing the competition for his ‘’limited resources’’ -- but given also the costs of going it alone -- women were not using their incomes to leave their husbands but to build positions of ‘virtual autonomy’ (also termed ‘divorce within marriage) from them. They built their own houses and invested in their own social networks as a safety net against this eventuality.

More on this from on UN-Women:


I look forward to hearing from others.

Getaneh (getanehg2002@yahoo.com)

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