Why its important to call out abuse

I have thought about this for a while. The importance of calling out abuse when you witness it. It may seem like a simple solution, why not? if you witness abuse there should be no questions about calling someone out on it? but it’s not as easy. For starters, abuse — no matter how much we speak and educate ourselves about it — is complex, simply because the abuser and those around him/her make it so, abusers tend to rely on making their victims feel as if they are the ones at fault and often going as far as seeking sympathy as a justification for their behavior. While those around him/her often tend to downplay the situation, there’ always the lingering fear that you might just be overtly sensitive to a situation or worse over-reacting.

When we read other people’s stories about abuse they seem simple, we are able to  identify the culprit, frustrate ourselves thinking about the lack of response from those affected and the witnesses; put yourself in the same place and its an entirely different scenario altogether. It might  because when we read other people’s narratives or hear their stories we paint a picture of the abuser as someone far from reality, someone we can not relate to in our daily lives, you don’t imagine your colleague, a family member or even an acquaintance to ever be capable of abuse. Yet, abusers aren’t people with special features, they don’t walk around with labels that make them identifiable, they are among us. Sometimes even better, more helpful and approachable of the lot. But that doesn’t mean abuse can’t be identified, it just means when it happens most of us are reluctant to call it out for more reasons than one.

What happens when we decide to call it out? For starters,if you are suffering emotional abuse the process of identifying it, comprehending it and then mustering the courage to speak out against it is frustrating. If you’re the one witnessing it gets even more complex, as there are times when the victim/survivor doesn’t want their experiences shared, there’s always a fear of a backlash, a constant guilt that one maybe over-reacting compounded with the insecurity that more people would believe the abuser over them. It is strange, regardless of where you are and what form of abuse you are suffering/witnessing most of the feelings remain the same. The uncertainty, frustrations, episodes of murky details followed by absolute clarity. It’s not easy. But unreal as it may sound it takes one moment of clarity to make that decision, to take the step to move forward, to decide that it is time to speak out and its crucial that you do. But what happens when you finally make that decision to call someone out? and can that be altered if you decide to follow a certain pattern to ‘call out’?. Dont get me wrong, I am not trying to put the onus to educate on the ones that suffer or those that witness it. But having been in a place where ‘calling out’ has resulted in backlash so brutal its left those involved with a commitment never to speak again, it has made me reconsider our tactics; or the more commonly used tactics.

What is calling out? It is a method for  revealing  privileged, abusive, bigoted or problematic behaviors to others publicly or show a mistake to the person  in trying to hopefully trigger some accountability. Call outs are mostly and usually a public outburst of information about a problematic behavior, in case of abuse it may be an outburst in front of a limited yet relevant audience. Yet, no matter how much courage it takes for someone to speak out against the abuse it is important to brace oneself for questions. It might seem crude to expect someone suffering from abuse to be answering questions and fighting doubts but that the fact remains if you call out is about making sure that the abuser is known and held accountable for their behavior you must equip yourselves for all possible scenarios. From my experience, I have found that its important to have proof, you should not be expected to reason and elaborate abusive behavior but proof could be as simple as a note to the abuser identifying to him that you find his behavior abusive. Make allies, if you feel like you are an in an abusive make sure to tell someone about this.

Having someone witness the behavior will only strengthen your resolve against the abuse. Let the abuser know that you will not tolerate such behavior. More importantly when you decide to call some one out know that it not a dialogue starter, it is not about revenge or seeking an apology, calling out abuse is a small step in the larger struggle to change our perception of, approach and reach to abuse. It is the starting point to a larger struggle, even if it begins with you saying: Your are being abusive, this will not betolerated any further. Zero tolerance to abuse is only the starting point to ending the culture of abuse .

About The Author

Sana Saleem

Sana Saleem is an activist working on minority rights and internet freedom. Sana was listed in Foreign Policy's 100 Global Thinker's list in 2012, for her work on free speech in Pakistan with Bolo Bhi. She serves on the advisory board of Courage Foundation, which is Edward Snowden's Legal Defense Fund. She blogs at Global Voices, Asian Correspondent, The Guardian, Dawn and her personal blog Mystified Justice. She also won Best Activist Blogger award by CIO & Google at the Pakistan Blogger Awards in the same year. In 2014, she was listed on BBC's 100 Women list. She can be found Twitter: @sanasaleem and contacted via email: sana@bolobhi.org

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