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The Four Witness Positions

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Definitions of Violence and Violation, Adapted from Common Shock

The Four Witness Positions

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The Four Witness Positions

Using a two by two grid, four witness positionsare created by the intersections of awareness and empowerment. It makes a difference to the witness -- and to the family, community and wider society -- whether one is aware or unaware of the meaning and significance of what one is witnessing and also a difference depending on whether one feels empowered or not in relation to what one witnesses. Crucially, witness positions can change.

Witness Position 1 is the most desirable for the person herself and constructive for others, for the person is aware – cognizant and mindful of the implications – and has an idea about how to take effective action in relation to that which she observes.

Witness Position 2 represents the most toxic condition for others, since a person in this position is unaware of the meaning and significance of what she is witnessing but is empowered in relation to the situation. A person in this witness position is most likely to do harm, where “do” refers to omissions as well as commissions.

Witness Position 3 depicts a person who is unaware of the meaning and significance of what she is witnessing and therefore does not, for she cannot, act in relation to that to which she is exposed.

Witness Position 4 represents the position that people experience with the most evident distress. The person is aware of the meaning of what she is witnessing but feels helpless or ineffective in relation to it.