A Note on Terminology


A Note on Terminology

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre

The terminology that is used throughout this website and all CRCC resources can vary as follows:

Except where the term ‘sexual assault’ is used within a legal definition (see section: What does the Law say about Sexual Assault) the terms ‘sexual assault’, ‘sexual violence’ and ‘sexual abuse’ are used interchangeably and refer to a broad range of sexual behaviours and sexual conduct towards another person, including both contact and non-contact behaviours, which are unwanted or where the person is unable to give consent (see section: When is Consent Negated?)

Different people refer to those who have experienced sexual assault as ‘victims’ and others use the term ‘survivor’. Individuals who have experienced sexual assault may prefer one word over the other and some use each of the terms to describe their experience at different times.

When a person has experienced trauma, they may feel overwhelmed or in crisis, their capacity to cope may be overloaded and they may feel paralysed. The word ‘victim’ can reflect this difficult and distressing time, which may last weeks, months, and for some people, years. It can also conjure up the sense that the person who experienced the sexual assault was subjected to the tactics of an offender.

The word ‘victim’ is also used by police and in criminal proceeding to denote that the person who has experienced an offence is not responsible for the offence.

The word ‘survivor’ is sometimes used in a therapeutic context and for some people it represents resilience and the ability to take action. The term can capture a sense of resourcefulness and strength in overcoming obstacles despite having gone through immense trauma.

The terms ‘offender’ and ‘perpetrator’ are used for those who perpetrate sexual violence with the exception of the reporting and legal process section where the terms ‘defendant’ and ‘accused person’ are used, reflecting the language used in criminal proceedings.