What Am I? Survivor vs. Victim

English is my third language. There are times when my choice of words, or diction, gives me away as a foreigner more than does my accent. Part of learning a language is the process of embodying and owning the meaning of words. To me, this process is the art of diction; writing and speaking words that fit your personality, style, and identity.

When I started learning about interpersonal violence (IPV) during college, “victim” was the common term to refer to those who had experienced IPV. Over the past 10 years I have noticed a new trend with “survivor” becoming the preferred choice for many. You can find many blogs and statements online made about why we should call people “survivors,” and not “victims.” These arguments are relatively new to me, so I decided to write about my findings and thoughts on this particular choice of words. First, let’s review the dictionary definitions:

Survivor: “a person who copes well with difficulties in their life” Oxford; “someone who continues to function or prosper despite [difficulties]” Merriam-Webster.

Victim: “a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action” Oxford; “a person who has been attacked, injured, robbed, or killed by someone else; someone or something that is harmed by an unpleasant event (such as illness or accident)” Merriam-Webster.

As an affected person myself, I feel that both of these terms apply to me. I accept that I have been harmed by an unpleasant event. I also cope with it, and would like to believe that I am functioning and prospering despite what happened. So why do we feel so strongly about calling us “survivors” only? It certainly has a positive and optimistic sound to it.

The arguments that I find over and over again is that “victim” implies passivity and a sense of being stuck whereas the word “survivor” is empowering and implies resilience and strength. I don’t disagree with these arguments, but could there be times when identifying as a “victim” is more appropriate?

I hope we can all agree that each person should be able to decide how they want to identify, and that we should respect that decision. Talking to others who have experienced IPV and reading stories online, it seems that at least some of us feel that we are, or at least have been, also “victims.” Something did happen to us. It took me years to learn how to face that it happened, face my perpetrator, and learn to move forward with my life despite the pain. From what I know, some of us are not as fortunate; some of us never move on.

For those who make a transition between identifying as a “victim” and then as a “survivor,” this process may take a long time; this means some of us may identify as “victims” for years. And that should be okay too. Additionally, if I wanted to pursue criminal charges against my perpetrator, I think I would want my lawyer to use the word “victim” rather than “survivor” in front of a jury.

At this point in my life, I mostly identify as a “survivor,” and I am proud of it. I feel that we need to be careful about telling others to call people who experience IPV one word or another, even if the intention behind it is good. There is a time and a place for each word, and it should be that person’s choice. It is important to let people who experience IPV know that others will use these words to describe them, what the words mean, and ask how they would like to be identified.

We all want to see people who experience IPV be “survivors” and move forward, but it is a process and it takes time. To ensure inclusiveness, I prefer documents that use “victim/survivor” instead of just one or the other.

For information on IPV and resources, visit www.safe.unc.edu

Interpersonal Violence: Services and Resources for Graduate Students

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I was an undergraduate student; now I am a graduate student for the second time. Recalling my college years, interpersonal violence (IPV) was far more visible and common than it appears to be among my fellow graduate students. It is possible that the rate of IPV is actually lower among older students such as myself? Or is it just less visible?grad

Given the heavy load of academic and professional expectations for graduate students, the effects and implications associated with IPV-related incidents likely differ from those associated with being an undergraduate student. Graduate students are more likely to be partnered, married, and/or have children, and a large portion are international students. So what does IPV look like during graduate school at UNC Chapel Hill?

Graduate (and professional) students represent over a third of the UNC-CH student body, yet few university services and resources specifically target this population. It would not be surprising if graduate students were less likely to be aware of the services and resources that are available for them on-campus. Neither would it be surprising to hear that very few graduate students access and utilize these services and resources. I asked the Graduate and Professional Student Federation (GPSF) if they could share any data regarding awareness, access, and utilization of university services and resources, but current leaders are not aware of any survey where the university has asked graduate students these questions.

In terms of IPV prevention and response, we have programs that target undergraduate students such as the online module by EverFi that incoming students are required to complete, One Act (prevention), and HAVEN (response). As part of the activities supported by the Office on Violence Against Women Campus Grant, Student Wellness is collaborating with GPSF to learn more about the graduate student experience and the types of services and resources that are most needed and least utilized. We are particularly interested in reaching out to graduate students to learn more about their experiences with IPV in their many roles as students, teaching assistants, family, and friends. Based on this information, we hope to develop training programs and campaigns to fit the needs of this population. In the meantime, here is a list of services and resources that may be of interest to graduate students:

Stay tuned for future updates on this topic, and if you are a graduate student who would like to help with this project please contact Kei Alegria-Flores at kalegria@live.unc.edu.

Interpersonal violence (IPV) and harassment abroad: Time to ask the UNC Students

Earlier this year I posted a blog named “Crossing national boundaries: IPV prevention and intervention” that highlighted the main findings from two literature reviews on the topics of 1) Studying abroad and IPV, and 2) International students and IPV. Here is an update on what UNC Chapel Hill is doing to find out more about IPV and harassment experienced by students who study abroad:

In Fall 2013, The UNC Study Abroad Office (SAO) added a module on IPV prevention to their pre-departure online training which is required for all students studying abroad. The goal of the module is to help students identify risky situations and know what actions to take to minimize risk for themselves and for their peers.

In addition to this online training module, UNC Student Wellness is working with SAO to launch a questionnaire that will be sent out to all students who have recently returned to the USA from their program sites. The questionnaire will gather information about situations in which students experienced IPV or harassment, and their knowledge and access to relevant resources, while studying abroad.

Every year, approximately 1,300 UNC students travel to 70 countries for periods of time that range between weeks and one full academic year. A study published in 2012 researched the risk for sexual assault in a northeastern U.S. college between undergraduate female students compared to their peers studying abroad. Their findings indicate that the semester risk for having nonconsensual sexual contact while studying abroad was more than four times higher than while studying on campus (5.59% vs. 24.54%). (Kimble, Flack, & Burbridge, 2012). Precisely why UNC is taking actions to minimize the risk by empowering students with the knowledge and skills they need.

Based on anecdotal evidence, we know that some UNC students have experienced IPV and/or harassment while studying abroad, but we do not have any data that can help us understand the occurrence or needs of students upon their return to UNC. This anonymous questionnaire will shed light on the types of IPV or harassment situations students face while studying in other countries and the severity of their effects. Additionally, we hope to learn about current gaps in student services that are unique to this subpopulation. Student Wellness will analyze the data and draft a yearly report for the SAO. Based on the results of this analysis, the SAO and Student Wellness will collaborate to improve student services locally and while abroad.

UNC Student Wellness and SAO are looking forward to continue building on this collaboration to ensure safe and fulfilling experiences for students who study abroad.We hope to minimize the risk of experiencing IPV and harassment, build trust with the students, and quickly and effectively address any student needs that may arise.

Look for more information on these topics in the future at safe.unc.edu. To talk to someone at UNC-CH’s Counseling and Psychological services, visit campushealth.unc.edu/caps.

UNC Study Abroad Office

Preventing Interpersonal Violence at UNC Chapel Hill: The Effect of One Act Training on Bystander Intervention

Most of our readers might know about One Act. One Act is a training program that was first implemented in 2010 to prevent interpersonal violence (IPV) by teaching students skills to intervene as bystanders in high-risk situations.


For example, you are at a house party and see that one of your friends is being pulled towards the second floor by someone you have never seen before. Your friend looks uncomfortable. What do you do? One Act training gives you the skills to intervene safely and effectively in situations like this one.

The first time I participated in this training I remember thinking to myself, “why didn’t we have this when I was in college!?” It could have prevented many unhappy events.

As it turns out, we did not have it at UCLA when I was an undergraduate student because IPV prevention programs are relatively new (and I am relatively old). UNC Chapel Hill’s effort in preventing IPV is rather cutting edge, and it is quickly becoming a hot topic among U.S. colleges.

The 2013 Campus SaVE Act, passed within the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act (a federal law that expands legal tools and grant programs addressing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking), requires campuses to implement bystander education for new students starting next academic year… and guess who is already doing that? You guessed correct, we are!

The SaVE Act is a great step towards ensuring that we all look out for each other, know how to identify the signs of risk, and overcome barriers to action. One problem, however, is that the SaVE Act does not specify effective program components or metrics for the successful implementation of bystander education programs. That is where UNC-CH comes in.

UNC-CH has joined the small group of universities that have bystander education programs such as the Green Dot program founded at the University of Kentucky and Bringing in the Bystander at the University of New Hampshire. We are also one of the very few that have actually evaluated the program with a large sample size and rigorous methodology. Our evaluation findings suggest that One Act training has significantly improved participants’ attitudes, self-efficacy, and willingness to help others.

We recently presented these results at the American Public Health Association Conference in Boston. Additionally, the evaluation’s manuscript will soon be submitted for publication.

We hope that our efforts at UNC-CH will help other universities implement bystander education programs. On our part, we will continue to improve the measurement scales and current program to better serve the UNC-CH community.

Join us! For more information about how to sign up for trainings, how to get involved, and resources, visit us at safe.unc.edu

To hear what other students have learned in One Act trainings, watch this video!