The impact of language and labels
words & their impact
There are specific words and phrases that when used, and especially without warning, can be harmful to individuals who have experienced or affected by sexual offences. Certain language and terms can also perpetuate inaccuracies around issues like consent, and compound harmful attitudes, some of which are explored here:
Please note that the following content may be triggering to individuals who have experienced or been affected by sexual harm.
Victim - Survivor – Those lost to sexual harm
When reporting about criminal cases it is important to use the correct terminology as identified in legislation and independent press standards.
If preparing a story directly with an individual who has experienced a sexual offence and the sexual harm resulting from that, and if they have waived their right to anonymity, we advise asking them how they would like to be referred to.
The word ‘survivor’ is often used to describe those with lived experience of sexual harm. For some individuals the term ‘survivor’ is an empowering one and a reality because they have quite literally survived their experience.
For others the word ‘survivor’ is associated with overcoming an obstacle and by doing so becoming stronger in some way. For others this can place a huge amount of pressure on them as an individual who has experienced trauma to ‘recover’ from their experience and transform into something else.
Some individuals with lived experience of sexual harm can find the pressure to be a survivor / act like a survivor every day unrealistic.
When considering ‘victims’ and ‘survivors’ it is also useful to reflect upon those who do not survive sexual harm, particularly those lost to suicide or homicide.