Disclosing violence in calls for help


  • Emma Tennent Victoria University of Wellington
  • Ann Weatherall Victoria University of Wellington




disclosures, domestic violence, feminist psychology, social interaction, gender and language, discourse


Violence against women is a pervasive problem, both in New Zealand society and around the world. Yet assessing the scale and effects of violence is difficult, as many women face barriers to disclosure. This paper examines women’s disclosures of violence in calls for help to a victim support agency. We use conversation analysis and focus on membership categorisation to describe the different ways disclosures are built and understood in situ. It was only in a minority of cases (around 20%), that callers made direct reference to violence, or categorised themselves explicitly as victims, albeit with indications of problems in speaking. However, for the majority, women did not mention the words ‘victim’ or ‘violence’ at all. Instead, culturally shared knowledge associated with categories of people (e.g. ex-partners) and places (e.g. home and jail) were used to build and interpret a description as a disclosure of violence. Our work contributes to an understanding of women’s disclosures of violence by examining them directly in the setting where they occur. We discuss some of the insights gained from examining interactions in situ, and the practical applications of our work for improving services for women who have experienced violence.

Author Biographies

Emma Tennent, Victoria University of Wellington

Emma Tennent has recently completed her PhD in psychology at Victoria University of Wellington. Her doctoral research examines identity and help in calls to Victim Support. Her research interests include social interaction, feminism, gender and language.

Ann Weatherall, Victoria University of Wellington

Ann Weatherall is a professor in psychology at Victoria University of Wellington. She has published on a wide range of topics at the intersection of discursive psychology and feminism, including studies of motherhood, sex work and sexism. Increasingly her work explores the possibilities of conversation analysis for understanding and challenging a social and moral order that functions to systematically disadvantage women.


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How to Cite

Tennent, E., & Weatherall, A. (2019). Disclosing violence in calls for help. Gender and Language, 13(2), 270–288. https://doi.org/10.1558/genl.35106