This resource was created by AORTA in April 2015. Feel free to be in touch to suggest changes or additions!
Everyone has different terminology they are comfortable using, and what’s important is the intent and meaning. However, the words we use can tell big stories about how we view a topic or situation.
Survivor: For many, the term survivor is much more empowering than the term victim. It puts emphasis on resilience and self-determination rather than the implication that who you are is defined by what was done to you. Victims are people who are no longer with us; survivors are those working towards healing from harm.
Person who caused harm: We are not the actions we commit. Person who caused harm doesn’t aim to minimize the harm committed, but it does use person-first language instead of terms like “abuser” or “perpetrator” which may feel labeling, debilitating, and damning. Instead, we should push people to take responsibility for their actions and stay committed to changing their behavior and supporting the healing of those they’ve harmed.
Sexual assault: Violence is perpetrated and experienced on a continuum, and it is up to the survivor to identify what behaviors feel like assault. Sexual assault could include actions such as unwanted touching, coercive or threatening sexual behavior, or withholding of resources in exchange for sexual contact. Many legal definitions don’t capture the wide range of individuals’ experience of sexual assault.
Consent: Consent, in this context, means active and positive agreement to all acts of sexual contact from touching and kissing to power play and sex. How consent happens can vary depending on the participants’ communication styles and preferences; what’s important is that positive agreement to sexual behavior is unambiguous and clear to all involved parties. Often, the use of alcohol and drugs can compromise involved participants’ understanding of and ability to give clear consent.
When someone discloses to you that they are a survivor of sexual assault or are in an ongoing relationship that includes sexual or domestic violence, it can be scary and overwhelming. Here are some basic tips that might help you respond in a supportive and helpful way. These tips are from Ubuntu’s “9 Principles of Survivor Support” from their zine Supporting a Survivor of Sexual Assault:
The Revolution Starts at Home
Ed. by Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Surviving Domestic Violence: Voices of Women Who Broke Free
by Elaine Weiss
The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse
by Ellen Bass
Allies in Healing: When the Person You Love is a Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse
by Laura Davis
Choices: Sexual Assault Prevention Workbook for Persons with Disabilities
by Ellen Shamen
No is Not Enough: Helping Teenagers Avoid Sexual Assault
by Carol Adams, Jennifers Faye and Jan Loreen-Martin