When do you use victim vs. survivor?


There is sometimes an understandable confusion between the terms victim and survivor in the anti-trafficking sector. When do you use the word victim to describe someone? What makes someone a survivor? There are both legal and emotional connections to these words, and we try to be sensitive in choosing the appropriate word for the context. In addition, we consulted with people who have experienced trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation because we believe the best way to be informed of what terms to use is to ask people who are themselves affected. Even within the anti-trafficking community, there might not be agreement, but these are the words we choose to use to talk about our work and our clients:

  • We use the term victim to describe someone in a state of exploitation or trafficking. UNODC defines human trafficking as "the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation."

  • Anyone under the age of 18 in the commercial sex industry is below the age of consent and is a victim of trafficking. There is no such thing as a child prostitute, only victims and survivors of child rape. Check out this campaign for more information.

  • We use the term victim compensation as legal terminology to describe a financial settlement paid from an offender to someone they exploited, even if that person is no longer a victim.

  • We use the term survivor to describe someone who was at one point in time trafficked or exploited.

Our goal is to see anyone who is currently a victim of trafficking and exploitation be identified and removed from harm so they can become a free and flourishing survivor. We recognize that every survivor has their own journey, and we don't want people to be defined by their pasts. We will never identify a victim or survivor of trafficking; their safety is our top priority.

constance dykhuizen