Beyond Victim or Survivor: Reclaiming Identity After Trauma
Written by Resilience Marketing Intern, Melody A.

When connecting with individuals who have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, and/or stalking, the terminology you use has the ability to foster or hinder healing. Survivor and victim are two terms that are frequently used to describe someone who has experienced violence or trauma. You’ve likely seen Resilience using both terms interchangeably over the years. So, how do you know which term is correct to use? Let’s take a look at what’s behind the two terms.

Survivor: The term survivor indicates that a person has made it through a significantly traumatic event. It often implies strength or that the individual is moving past the incident. This term does not directly allude to a perpetrator. Survivor means that the person is still alive, meaning there is hope and a future ahead of the traumatic incident(s). Being a survivor is often celebrated. 

Victim: While there are many individuals who choose to identify as a victim, some feel the term victim can imply weakness and puts more emphasis on the perpetrator or the traumatic event itself. Some individuals that have experienced trauma at the hands of a perpetrator feel that being called a victim gives more power to the abuser.  Victim is the terminology typically used in a legal setting, such as custody and divorce cases or Personal Protection Orders. 

It is always best to use the terminology that the individual has used to describe themselves. For example, if someone calls themselves a survivor, that is the terminology that should be used in the future to describe that person.

Either term can have a negative impact on an individual, especially if the person does not want to be labeled. It is important to find out what terminology is right for someone, as it has a huge impact on their mental health. It is entirely possible an individual would not want to be labeled at all. 

Trauma therapists typically suggest using the term survivor, as it is a way to empower the individual. However, an individual may not always feel empowered by the term. Always remember that the usage of the terminology should be based on the personal preference of the individual who has experienced sexual assault, domestic violence, or stalking. 

After someone has experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, they often lose their identity. People often  see them as a victim/survivor and not who they were before the traumatic event. This is why allowing them to self-identify is empowering. 

Treat them as a person. Their identity is more than a label. 

You can help to reclaim their identity by reminding them they are not just a victim or survivor, but a person – a person that has value and deserves respect.


If you or someone you know has experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, and/or stalking, we are here to help.
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