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"Survivors" vs. "Victims"

There's this trend to use the word "survivor" in the place of "victim", to make the people being referred to feel more empowered. It's most widely used when talking about sexual and domestic violence, but you see it used anytime there is discussion of people who have undergone some sort of extremely bad experience, be it violence, disaster or disease.

I have no problem with the idea of people who have survived some bad experience being referred to as "survivors" of it. But the generic use of the word "survivor" as an all-purpose replacement for "victim" has always bothered me. The more I think about it, the more I detest it.

Because, what about the victims that DIDN'T survive? If, for example, you say your organization "advocates for the survivors of ___", you are explicitly excluding those that don't survive.

"Survivor" can be a pretty broad category, including those who brush off a bad experience and those who are traumatized by it but make it through anyway. But it doesn't include those who are outright killed by the bad experience, or those who initially make it through but then die for some other reason such as suicide or accidental overdose because they can't cope with the pain or memories of what they've been through or how the experience changed them. It might eve make those who aren't sure yet if they are going to make it through feel excluded.

So, if you're intending to refer to all victims of ___, saying "survivors of ___" is not appropriate. So what do you call those who didn't survive? Are they victims now? But if you abandoned the word "victim" in favor of "survivor" because you thought "victim" was demeaning, it's kind of rude to apply it only to those who didn't survive. They weren't necessarily any weaker or more passive than those who survived. There are a lot of factors outside a victim's control that determine survival.

You could say "survivors and casualties of ___" if you want to be inclusive. But it's simpler to just say "victims of ___" and define it simply as "people who have experienced ___" and not apply negative associations to the concept of "victim".


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 13th, 2015 06:55 pm (UTC)
Some of the comments on this blog post make very good points on of the problematic nature of overusing the word "survivor":

Feb. 13th, 2015 10:58 pm (UTC)
"Advocates for people who have suffered with"... maybe?

I have an issue with this too. I am not a survivor of aggressive telemarketing, but in the broadest possible interpretation I've been a victim of telemarketers.

It's something about managing blame, and focusing on the person who was not at fault.
Feb. 15th, 2015 04:51 am (UTC)
I see it very differently than you do.

Survivor does not imply to me that the person who made it through the trauma did so because of their own strength or any other attribute. They merely didn't die; they survived. It may have been because someone else rescued them, or because they cleverly figured a way out, or because of luck or timing or any other reason. The word doesn't come pre-loaded with causality, though it seems from what you say that you consider it to do so. I don't.

I consider all who have been victimized to be victims, but the ones who have died as a direct or indirect result of trauma remain victims, because they are by definition not the ones who survived. All the others WERE victims, but now ARE survivors.
Feb. 28th, 2015 08:48 pm (UTC)
Depending on the value of X, "Survivor" may also underplay the harm caused by the aggressor.

"Survivors of tax return fraud" sounds pretty weak. I don't think anyone has died from someone else filing their taxes, they just might be out a couple thousand bucks. "Victims of tax return fraud" emphasizes that they've had to deal with significant harm; not getting a couple thousand bucks is a serious problem for a lot of people.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


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