Find the Words

 

 

Knowing how to talk about sexual violence can be difficult. There is a lot of stigma around talking about a personal experience because we might not want to be seen as ‘broken,’ or make anyone else upset. As a supporter, we may want to say the right thing, but often we haven’t been given the tools to do so. Despite these challenges, we know that it’s important to talk about sexual violence--and to do so accurately--because it thrives in silence.

Here are some of the words and phrases that may help you with your conversations around sexual violence:

Consent

Consent is a voluntary, ongoing, active and conscious agreement to engage in the sexual activity in question. It’s the first step in any physical intimacy, and it is a must from all participants. 

It is the responsibility of the person wanting to engage in sexual activity to obtain clear consent from the other and to recognize that consent can be withdrawn at any time.

A "yes" that is obtained through pressure, coercion, force, threats or by inducing intoxication, impairment, or incapacity is not voluntary consent. Silence or ambiguity do not constitute consent either. You cannot assume that you have consent based on a prior relationship, or a willingness to participate in another activity. Consent is something that must be given in the moment - it cannot be given at an earlier time in advance of the sexual activity. 

Consent cannot be achieved when:

  • it is given by someone else.
  • the person is unconscious, sleeping, highly intoxicated or high, or otherwise lacks the capacity to consent.
  • it was obtained through the abuse of a position of power, trust or authority.
  • the person does not indicate "yes", 
  • The person says "no" or implies "no" through words or behaviours.
  • the person changes their mind and withdraws their consent.

Survivor or victim?

These words are often used interchangeably, and refer to the individual who has experienced an unwanted sexual act. The word “victim” is more commonly used in legal proceedings and criminal investigations, the word “survivor” is the more common term used by supporters and allies. Although  we have used the term “survivor” on this website, and encourage supporters and allies to use it as well, it’s important to understand that the word may not reflect everyone’s experience and some survivors may prefer the term victim. When speaking with a survivor/victim, let them choose the term that they feel best reflects their experience. And remember that above all, they are still the individual that they were before and should be treated as such."

“I Believe You”

It’s imperative that survivors know that they can safely share their experience without blame and without judgement. They must know that they are not alone and that that they will be supported - and to achieve that, they must know that they are believed.

Believing someone doesn’t mean we have to know beyond a shadow of a doubt exactly what did, or did not, happen. It just means that we trust that person is struggling with something and we take that seriously.

Courage

Making a disclosure is a courageous act - and it’s important to recognize that when speaking with a survivor. If someone discloses to you, thank them for telling you and acknowledge their courage. Keep in mind, what a survivor shares is their choice. Let them speak at their own pace, and avoid asking them “why” questions and remind them that what happened was not their fault.

Support

Support for survivors of sexual violence can take many forms - at the most basic level it involves being a compassionate, empathetic listener. Hearing what they have to say, do not interrupt, and let them indicate what they would like to do or not do.

Should a survivor want further assistance, let them know about the services that are available to provide further supports. These supports can focus on physical, mental, spiritual, and social well being. They can also provide assistance with modifications which may focus on academic success and/or safety planning.

Sexual violence

Sexual violence is a complex and serious problem that can affect individuals of all gender identities, gender expressions, and sexual orientations, as well as those from all ages, abilities, racial, cultural, and economic backgrounds.

Sexual violence is any sexual act, act of a sexual nature, or act targeting sexuality, physical or psychological, that is committed without consent.

It includes, but is not limited to: Sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, indecent exposure, voyeurism, distribution of intimate images. Sexual violence also includes inducing intoxication, impairment, or incapacity for the purpose of making another person vulnerable to non-consensual sexual activity, and other analogous conduct.

Sexual assault

Any form of sexual contact without consent. This can include unwanted or forced 'kissing,' fondling, vaginal or anal penetration or touching, or oral sexual contact.

Sexual harassment

Conduct or comment of a sexual nature, which detrimentally affects the work, study, or living environment or otherwise leads to adverse consequences for the target of the sexual harassment. It can be either one-time or repeated and:

  • is demeaning, intimidating, threatening, or abusive; and
  • is not trivial or fleeting in nature; and
  • causes offence and should have reasonably been expected to offend; and
  • serves no legitimate purpose for the work, study or living environment, and
  • undermines authority or respect in the work, study, or living environment, or impairs work or learning performance, or limits opportunities for advancement or the pursuit of education or research, or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work or learning environment.

Stalking

Repeated unwanted contact or communication directed at another person that causes reasonable fear or concern for that person's safety or the safety of others known to them. The harm may be physical, emotional, or psychological, or related to the personal safety, property, education, or employment of an individual.

Stalking can occur physically, electronically, and/or through a third party.

Indecent exposure

Exposing one's genitals, buttocks and/or breasts or inducing another to expose their own genitals, buttocks and/or breasts in non-consensual circumstances, in person or electronically.

Voyeurism

Surreptitiously observing and/or recording another individual's full or partial nudity or sexual activity without the knowledge and consent of all parties involved.

Distribution of intimate images

Includes showing, sharing, distributing or streaming of images, video or audio recording of a sexual activity or full or partial nudity of oneself or others, without the consent of all parties involved, or the threat to do the same.

Rape culture

This phrase refers to the harm that is caused by a culture where common attitudes, norms and practices
tolerate, normalize, trivialize, excuse or outright condone sexual violence. This collective behaviour is perpetuated through images, television, music, jokes, advertising, jargon, words and figures of
speech that normalize sexual coercion and the shift blame onto those who have experienced sexual violence.

Person who caused harm

There are lots of words to refer to the person who engaged in sexually violent behaviour: perpetrator, offender, rapist. While these terms put the responsibility squarely on the individual who acted violently, they also reduce them to that one behaviour and make it more difficult for us to see the whole person. The reality is, while sexual assault is deplorable, all of us have the capacity to violate another person’s boundaries in this way, lots of us just choose not to. When we see the whole person, we believe healing and growth are possible. And with healing and growth comes true sexual violence prevention.