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Victim/survivor

What does victim/survivor mean?

  • The term “victim/survivor” is used on this website and in many other resources.
  • This term acknowledges that some people who have experienced sexual violence prefer the term “victim” while others prefer the term “survivor.”
  • Another advantage of this phrase “Victim/survivor” is that it conveys two aspects of the experience of sexual violence that may both be relevant; one side communicated by the term “victim,” the other by the term “survivor.” The meanings of these individual terms are described below.

Which term should I use when talking to someone who has experienced sexual violence?

When speaking with someone who has lived through this experience, it is best to use the language that person prefers, whether the person prefers the term “victim,” “survivor”, or something else.

Why might someone prefer the term “victim”?

“The word ‘victim’ conveys that ‘someone committed a crime against this person, and that they were injured by it’” (Femifesto & Collaborators, 2015). It can be empowering to a person who has lived through sexual violence to highlight the harm this experience has caused.

Why might someone not like the term “victim”?

  • Some people don’t like to use the term “victim” because they feel it makes them sound powerless and ignores their “coping and resistance strategies” (Femifesto & Collaborators, 2015).
  • This term can make it sound like the person is nothing more than the violence they have experienced. In fact, every person is more than the bad things that have happened to them.

Why might someone prefer the term “survivor”?

The term “survivor” can convey the “agency,” “resilience,” and “inner strength” (Femifesto & Collaborators, 2015) people draw on during and after experiences of sexual violence. It can suggest emerging from an experience of sexual violence as a whole person rather than a broken person.

Why might someone not like the term “survivor”?

  • Some people feel that the term “survivor” does not recognize the harm sexual violence causes.
  • Others feel that this term creates pressure to be strong and feel empowered when they may feel wounded.
  • Like the word “victim,” the word “survivor” can make it sound like the person is nothing more than the violence they have lived through. Again, every person is more than the bad things that have happened to them.

What are some alternatives to “victim,” “survivor,” or “victim/survivor”?

  • Femifesto & Collaborators (2015) suggest several alternative phrases that might be preferred because they put the person first rather than making it sound as if the person is nothing but the sexual violence they have experienced. These phrases are:
    • “a person who was subjected to sexual violence”
    • “a person who was sexually assaulted”
    • “a person who survived sexual abuse”
  • The term “complainant” is used in legal contexts like investigations conducted under university SV/SA policies, police investigations, or trials.
  • Another phrase that can be used is “a person who has experienced sexual violence.”