SUPPORT WITHIN REACH: Identifying sexual violence definitions: victim, survivor, thriver

No matter what, anyone that has experienced sexual violence or been affected by sexual violence deserves the best services possible and to be identified using their own terms.

Kori Nelson Support Within Reach column WEB.jpg
Support Within Reach

In 2019 I did an article identifying myself as a survivor of sexual violence. For those that didn’t see it, I will give you a little recap. The first time I was raped I was 11 years old. I was raped again by the same perpetrator at ages 12 and 13.

Even after reporting, I could not identify myself as a victim or survivor, even though people were calling me that. Once I was able to identify myself as a victim, it took years to identify as a survivor. Now I like to say I have moved on from survivor to thriver!

Working in the advocacy world, one hears many terms for those who have experienced sexual violence. There are times that individuals don’t identify with any label, such as victim or survivor. Not identifying as a victim, is often seen in sexual exploitation and trafficking but it also happens in sexual violence, which does not involve a third party.

The term victim is generally used immediately after the assault or after reporting. Survivor is used when the person no longer self-identifies as a victim. They have survived the event and are in the process of overcoming or they have overcome their experience.

The song “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child does a good job of explaining the process. “I'm a survivor, I'm not gonna give up, I'm not gonna stop, I'm gonna work harder, I'm a survivor, I'm gonna make it, I will survive, keep on surviving.” Moving from survivor to thriver for me, means using my story of healing, hope and perseverance to help others. But I also live day to day knowing my assault is part of me and I am okay with that.


The movement to use pronouns to self-identify (Kori-she/her) needs to be made by the person affected. Society has taught us it’s okay to use these terms to describe someone who has experienced a traumatic event. However, not everyone will identify the same.

It can be as simple as asking them how they identify. By doing this, they have the power to decide how they want to be identified. When sexual violence is experienced by an individual, their power and control are taken away from them. It’s important to give them their power back in any way you can.

No matter the circumstances around an incident of sexual violence, most of the time there are other individuals affected by the experience. At Support Within Reach, the term we use is “secondary victims” (Label used for statistical reporting purposes). These can be people that have witnessed the assault or they can be a support person (parent, aunt, cousin, friend, grandparent, guardian) to the person that was assaulted.

They are watching their loved one go through something difficult and hard, and sometimes they need a person (or advocate) to talk to. Sometimes it’s helping parents or guardians understand the impact of sexual violence on their child or youth and offering appropriate responses, rather than reactional responses.

No matter what, anyone that has experienced sexual violence or been affected by sexual violence deserves the best services possible and to be identified using their own terms.

Kori Nelson is the Development and Volunteer Coordinator at Support Within Reach.

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