In my activist work, I’ve always heard sexual assault and sexual violence, domestic violence and domestic abuse, victim and survivor used interchangeably. Since I have personal experience with all of the above terms, I’d like to share my opinions on which I prefer.
Sexual assault vs. sexual violence
As I said, I’ve always heard of these interchangeably, and am not aware of any difference between the two. My personal preference is sexual assault, because the latter implies that it’s always violent.
There’s a pervasive myth that sexual assault is always violent, and if the survivor doesn’t have any bruises, it didn’t happen/ they wanted it/ they’re lying. Because apparently we’re always supposed to fight back. Sometimes fighting back is not wise or possible, either because it might cause more bodily harm to the survivor or they froze up, which is a very common response. More info on why fighting back isn’t always necessary or possible here. If you want an example of why fighting isn’t always necessary, check out my story. Remember, sexual assault is the perpetrator’s fault alone, so not fighting back doesn’t make it the survivor’s fault.
The term sexual assault also has a violent connotation, but in this case we as a society have a chance to change our association with that word.
Domestic violence vs. domestic abuse
My objections about domestic violence are along the same lines as sexual violence. Abuse can include emotional, verbal, sexual, physical, financial abuse and more. The word abuse implies that umbrella of different types. Meanwhile, domestic violence alludes to the physical aspect alone.
Again, there’s a myth that domestic abuse is just “wife beating” which ignores the other types of abuse. In my eyes, the term domestic violence reinforces the stereotype that domestic abuse involves only men abusing women in heterosexual relationships.
However, it is entirely possible for someone to be abusive without ever laying a finger on their partner. But let me be clear: that doesn’t mean that the abuse is any less severe. Ask any survivor of emotional and physical domestic abuse and they’ll tell you that the previous is worse. The scars of emotional abuse are serious and don’t fade quickly.
Victim vs. survivor
It’s much more common these days to use the word survivor rather than victim. However, the latter is still used sometimes. And that’s fine. Some people identify with that word more. You’ve probably figured out by now that I prefer the term survivor. That’s because it implies triumph and strength. Meanwhile, the word victim implies powerlessness and pity.
Of course not all victims/survivors are going to agree with me. They are of course free to label their experiences in whichever way they prefer. And allies, I think, should follow their lead.
Thank you for reading this post. You can find my full backstory here.