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Victim identity and respect for human dignity: a terminological analysis

30-06-2009 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 874, by Valerie Meredith

The use of the term ‘victim’ as an identity can have different implications, depending on who is using it, claiming it, rejecting it or attributing it to others; therefore, the term should be used with some care and insight. This article analyses the use and function of the word ‘victim’ at different levels in the work and actions of the ICRC. It stresses the importance of aid workers being able to recognize the potential and active identity of a person beyond the institutional label as 'victim', thereby respecting that person’s human dignity.

Abstract 

The use of the term ‘victim’ as an identity can have different implications, depending on who is using it, claiming it, rejecting it or attributing it to others. Its negative connotations may have an impact on the person or persons concerned. This implies that the term should be used with some care and insight. The article analyses the use and function of the word ‘victim’ at different levels in the work and actions of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Noting the extent to which the term is or is not used with caution, it points to the evolution in awareness from a certain institutional discourse to the current careful wording displayed in research and publications. The article stresses the importance of aid workers being able to recognize the potential and active identity of a person beyond the institutional label as ‘victim’, as this constitutes an important step in respecting that person’s human dignity.  

Biography

Valerie M. Meredith holds a BSc Econ (Hons) degree from Aberystwyth University and an MA from Essex University. She has done several missions with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and is currently in Afghanistan.