Madison Phillips — November 21, 2020

How Do You Identify: Victim, Survivor, or Both?

Madison Phillips

Words have power. By that, I am talking in particular about words used to describe those who have experienced sexual assault and the certain connotations that they carry. The two most common words to describe individuals who have faced sexual violence include “victim” and “survivor.” 

Words have power.

Classically, a person who has experienced assault would be referred to as a “sexual assault victim,” but that language has begun to change over the years. Now, it is typically more common to hear someone in this situation referred to as a “sexual assault survivor.” 

Why have communities and organizations, like Our Wave, decided to use the term “survivor” over “victim?”

“Victim” often elicits the idea that someone has lost their agency or their ability to make their own choices in life. The word “victim” is sometimes associated with feelings of being powerless, helpless, and pitiful (OCRCC). On the other hand, “survivor” is viewed as a term that describes someone who is empowered, has agency, and who is going through or has gone through the recovery process (SAKI).

You can identify with whichever term you feel most comfortable or you can use them interchangeably.

Even though we choose to use one word over another, that does not mean you have to do the same. You can identify with whichever term you feel most comfortable or you can use them interchangeably.

Some people choose to reclaim the term “victim” in a way that breathes agency and power back into it (Harper’s Bazaar). Others refer to themselves as “victims” when speaking specifically of the assault but as “survivors” when speaking about themselves in current times of healing (SAKI). 

However you choose to identify yourself in relation to your experience is valid. And know, Our Wave will be there to support you through it all.

Help change the conversation.

Our Wave depends on your generous contributions for our continued success. Donate today and support us as we work to support survivors of sexual assault.

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