When speaking about sexual violence, there are many terms and phrases that foster support and healing. There are also terms and phrases that can put people on the defensive, shut down conversations, and make those who have experienced sexual violence (we call them “warriors”) feel as though they are not being heard.
By using a shared vocabulary when discussing the film, facilitators will give participants the language to productively discuss sexual violence. This language will also allow facilitators to guide the conversation away from the legal terminology and towards supportive language about our peers’ experiences.
Warrior vs. survivor vs. victim:
In the context of Together, “warrior” is the preferred term to describe a person who has experienced sexual violence. Experiencing sexual violence and living through the affects of this trauma is not a linear journey to healing but rather a series of daily battles that people may face to process their experience. Survivor is also an accepted term for people who have experienced sexual violence.
Victim is not an appropriate way to describe warriors. It alludes to the legal term for someone who has had a crime committed against them. While this may be true for warriors, it has connotations of helplessness– an adjective that certainly does not describe warriors.
Person who has committed sexual violence vs. attacker/perpetrator:
Labeling someone who has committed sexual violence can be difficult. Often we are not able to think of our friends or loved ones as “perpetrators” or “attackers,” which can lead us away from belief of warriors and their stories. Consequently, it is better to describe one’s actions rather than making those actions one’s identity.
For example: If someone raises their hand and says something like, “My friend is a perpetrator…” you would respond with, “Knowing someone who has committed sexual violence is unfortunately something we all may experience at one time or another. It doesn’t mean that these people can’t be our friends, but it is up to you about how you confront or discuss your feelings about what your friend or peer has done.”
Experience vs. assault:
We should avoid labeling other people’s experiences. Therefore, it is best to use the open-ended term “experience” when describing a story of sexual violence.
Why vs. How and What
Rather than asking why someone did something, it is better to say, “what drove that person to do that?” or “how can we better understand what happened?” This small shift in language changes the tone of the question from judging to asking.