victim (mental health and trauma)Last updated
When someone is harmed by mistreatment, legally they are referred to as a victim. Typically the individual is harmed by another human being. For example, one can be victimized in a hate crime, but someone who survives a lightning strike generally wouldn’t be called “victim.”
People who have lived through such harm can have widely different attitudes about this word. Some people feel that “victim” is condescending, paints them as helpless, or carries negative associations (as in “victim mentality” or “victim mindset”). In recent decades, the word “survivor” has gained popularity among some people who have experienced sexual assault or other harm. Some feel that the term emphasizes resilience and has fewer negative connotations than “victim.” Others, however, feel that “survivor” minimizes their ongoing pain, or that it misrepresents their experience in other ways. Some people, meanwhile, call themselves “victim” for a certain period before moving on to “survivor.” Following the person’s preferred terminology whenever possible aligns your framing with their lived experience.
- I’ve Been Told I’m a Survivor, Not a Victim. But What’s Wrong With Being a Victim? (Time)
- The Forced Heroism of the ‘Survivor’ (New York Times)
- I’m Not a Sexual Assault “Survivor”—I’m a Victim (Harper’s Bazaar)
The term victim is used to refer to a person who has experienced bullying, harassment, abuse, attacks, or aggression from another person or institution. While some individuals may self-identify with this term, others may not. Taking into account the person’s preferred terminology whenever possible aligns your framing with their lived experience.