The language found on this page is written by OSAPR staff with the intention of contextualizing terms used in our work.  Many of the terms have complicated, nuanced language in an attempt to provide greater clarity around these issues. Our lives are messy and complex, and there are a multitude of ways to conceptualize an experience of violence, harm or oppression. At OSAPR, it is our philosophy to use current, accurate language, even if it is not what is most familiar.  We do this with an insistence on teaching toward the world we desire to live in.

Definitions from the Harvard policy are explored in depth here.

“There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
― Audre Lorde 


Accountability is claiming responsibility, willingly or consequentially, for an act or course of action.  It is frequently misunderstood to mean punishment or that it must be achieved through adjudication.  In cases of sexual violence, accountability is complicated by the severity of consequences (criminal justice, higher education, and social) one may experience with admission of harm to another person. The significance of increasing accountability in cases of sexual violence is the connection to prevention: by individually acknowledging the harm we’ve caused, we are less likely to engage in this behavior again, thereby decreasing the likelihood of future incidents. Common misunderstanding of the spectrum of violence and rape culture leads to a lack of awareness around the many ways harm is actively caused either by attitude or action. Through social change communication, we can transform the culture by addressing the conditions that contribute to rape culture, thereby creating less opportunity for such harm to be normalized and go unchecked. Becoming accountable to oneself, to another person, and to the community is essential to developing a healthy and violence free culture.


Activism is taking action to effect social and political change. This includes confronting social injustice in policies and systems through continuous dialogue and mobilization efforts. Activism and advocacy are similar in that they include motivating different levels of decision makers (e.g. peer leaders with social capital and administrators) to publicly discuss the issue of sexual violence, defend policy changes, and commit resources to action. Activism is also the process of creating alternatives to the dominant system through the construction of new social norms. Activism can:

a) promote the development and adequate implementation of survivor-centered policies, policies or rules;

b) redefine public perceptions and social norms surrounding the tolerance of violence;

c) support protocols that benefit populations marginalized by current legislation, norms and procedures, and/or

d) influence funding decisions for specific initiatives.


Advocacy is the act of providing private or public support for someone. It is a tool employed within systems to effect social, cultural, and/or systemic change.  A professional advocate is trained to identify someone’s unmet needs and support them through the navigation of complex systems to correct an imbalance in access, mobility, and accommodation. Advocates foster collaborative relationships with influential decision makers to ensure that the rights of the person who needs support are upheld. Advocacy happens at all levels of the socio-ecological model; taking action to assist in changing the circumstances contributing to a problem or inequity. 

Bystander Intervention

Bystander Intervention is a social science strategy to prevent violence and oppression through the engagement of individuals (or groups) willing to actively address a situation they deem problematic. We all observe multiple incidents daily, but usually do not acknowledge the situation as needing our response. An active bystander is someone who acknowledges a problematic situation and chooses how to respond. They must decide if they will speak up, step in, or offer assistance. Research has found that people struggle with whether helping out is their responsibility - a concept referred to as diffusion of responsibility. Meaning, if several people are present, an individual is much less likely to help believing someone else will.  In other situations, bystanders may fail to intervene if the situation feels ambiguous and they are worried about misjudging the situation.  Fearing consequences, social stigma, embarrassment, or even a threat to safety, it can be difficult to determine how and when to intervene. In addition, most of us have not grown up in communities where people are constantly confronted on sexist, homophobic, transphobic, racist, and/or misogynistic language and behavior in public or private spaces. Successful bystander intervention programs teach people to overcome their resistance to checking in and helping out. They raise an individual's self efficacy - or, confidence in one's ability to perform the necessary action. 

Case Attrition

Case Attrition is the sharp decrease between the number of incidents of sexual violence, reports made to law enforcement, cases that make it to court, verdicts that result in convictions, and convictions that result in incarcerations. Decisions throughout the criminal justice process depend on expectations of what will happen at the next step, leading to this funnel effect.

Additionally, a survivor may change their mind about participating in the case for numerous reasons even after a report has been made to law enforcement. Often the standard of evidence used in the criminal justice system lends itself to victim blaming, and survivors are put in a position of having to prove the crime they have been victim to. Other adjudication processes see similar rates of case attrition.


Coercion is a tool of control that uses pressure or manipulation to ignore or reject the needs of another person. Coercive behavior can include subtle or overt threats, intimidation, blackmail, dishonesty, persistence, emotional withholding, etc. A person’s ability to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, is necessarily influenced by the interplay of power, identity, and privilege between those involved. In using coercion, a person in a position of power--perceived or actual--leverages that power to achieve their desired outcome.  Someone with power and privilege should never put someone else in a position where they are expected to say yes to sexual activity. Rape culture normalizes the belief that a “yes” achieved through coercion is sufficient consent, allowing for a societal, collective disregard of someone’s autonomy and value in the process. It is not always as obvious as “quid pro quo” - a teacher asks for a sexual favor in exchange for a good grade. Perhaps it’s a flirtation that is flattering at first, but becomes an awkward and uncomfortable advance where saying no could result in social consequence. Regardless of whether consequence is perceived or actual, creating a situation where the party with less power has to say 'yes' is unethical.


Consent is an ongoing physical and emotional process between people who are willing, equally free of coercion, communicating unambiguously, and sincere in their desires. Many people are taught that it is okay to be unsure in a sexual encounter, that it's okay to interpret body language (which is often misinterpreted and then used to victim blame) instead of asking or talking when uncertain. In actuality, consent is a mutual agreement, to listen to and stay engaged with one another throughout all interactions, to respect both yourself and your partners’ needs, and to understand that someone may choose to disengage from the experience at any time. You want to know, without a doubt, they are excited to engage with you in whatever activities you agree upon, regardless of whether the experience is amazing or mediocre and that may include both verbal and nonverbal cues. Many factors influence how consent is given and received including power dynamics or alcohol consumption. It is the responsibility of all parties to receive consent from their partner(s).  

To review the University's definition of Unwelcome Conduct, please see below.


Drug Facilitated Assault

Drug facilitated sexual assault is committed using an agent which renders a person incapacitated and therefore unable to consent. These drugs may include GHB and Rohypnol (roofies), but the substance most commonly used to incapacitate is alcohol. Drugs and alcohol may be administered with the intent to incapacitate a person, or someone may take advantage of a person they view to be under the influence.

False Reports

A report of of sexual violence is considered false when there is convincing evidence that the report was not true. It is often conflated with an "unsubstantiated" report where the facts presented are determined not to have met the standard of evidence. An unsubstantiated and/or retracted report does not mean the incident did not happen. Disproportionate attention is given to false reports although research suggests that, consistent with other felony crimes, the rate of false reports for rape is somewhere between 2% and 10%.

Gender-based Violence

Gender-based Violence is used to encompass incidents of sexual and relationship violence, specifically drawing attention to the gendered nature of these crimes.  Though no one gender commits all acts of violence and no one gender is exclusively victim to acts of violence, women, trans*, and gender nonconforming individuals are disproportionately impacted. Regardless of the gender of persons involved in an incident, most of these actions rely on hegemonic masculinity to perpetuate power and control over the other individual. Misogyny is the undercurrent of violence in a society with gender inequity.

Gender Inequity

Gender Inequity refers to the disparity of power, status, and opportunity among genders in a society.  This dynamic is reinforced through interpersonal interaction at home, in school, and in the workplace, and institutionalized through policies, laws, and systems. Throughout the lifespan, the barrage of messaging results in an internalization of gendered norms and expectations, influencing everything including career choices and the pay-gap, access to and experience of healthcare, and domestic roles and relationships.  We stipulate that gender equity cannot be achieved until it is recognized that there are more than two genders and all genders are afforded equal access, mobility, and value in public and private spaces.

Hegemonic Masculinity

Hegemonic masculinity relies on the notion that there are only two genders and that their roles are distinct and unequal.  It is the belief that men should (and do) hold a dominant social position over women.  This model of masculinity gives preference to certain characteristics such as dominance, stoicism, aggression, competitiveness, and strength. As a result, other characteristics such as empathy, compassion, and lack of physical strength are considered contradictory and/or feminine, therefore inferior. From a very young age, regardless of cultural upbringing, children of all genders understand success to be synonymous with this type of masculinity because it is modeled in educational institutions, athletics, corporations, media, and legislation. This model leaves little room for nuance, reinforcing an intolerance of difference. Other systems of oppression - namely patriarchy - rely on hegemonic masculinity to perpetuate gender inequity and gender-based violence.


Incapacitated is a state in which a person is incapable of consenting to or inviting sexual activity as a result of drugs, alcohol, sleep, unconsciousness, or emotional and psychological distress. Signs of incapacitation might include but are not limited to stumbling, difficulty maintaining balance, blacking out, vomiting, inability to focus, disorientation, and inability to communicate coherently. Not all persons who are incapacitated will demonstrate any of the aforementioned symptoms.

*From the University Policy FAQs:

Is intoxication the same as incapacitation?

No. There are many levels of intoxication. People can be intoxicated and still be able to make and express their decisions. Incapacitation is when someone is “so impaired . . . as to be incapable of requesting or inviting the conduct.”

Innocent Until Proven Guilty

Innocent until proven guilty is a principle of the American criminal justice system where a person who has been accused is presumed to be innocent until the crime is proven beyond a reasonable doubt. This principle ideally protects those who are innocent and is of particular significance to minority populations disproportionately targeted for arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment or other consequences. In the context of sexual assault, “innocent until proven guilty” is sometimes invoked to silence survivors; when a survivor’s experience is validated through measures that either protect or provide care, it is assumed that there is an infringement on the liberties of the person who has caused harm, as well as a presumption of their guilt. Survivor-centric policies do not take away from the necessity of “innocent until proven guilty" in the criminal justice system, as these ideas are not mutually exclusive. Trauma may exacerbate or create an imbalance of access, mobility, and rights; the provision of care, concern, and protection for survivors can correct that imbalance.

Insidious Trauma

Insidious Trauma refers to the negative impact of marginalization and oppression.  Though it is not as obvious as a single traumatic incident such as rape, its cumulative effects are detrimental to a person’s health and result in many of the same outcomes.  Consider street harassment- a single incident may not be enough to cause trauma, but after many years of experiencing this type of harassment, a person might start to feel anxious before they go outside, alter their way of dress, or change the routes they walk.  Someone may make changes to their attitudes and behavior in an attempt to mitigate feelings of fear, anxiety, and shame, having internalized the negative psychosocial impact of experiencing street harassment. They may also start to develop low-self esteem and depression, believing that they have done something to deserve this type of attention or behavior. Systemic racism, homophobia, misogyny, and all other types of oppression result in insidious trauma as an effect of repeat exposure to micro-aggressions. This common form of discrimination often goes unnoticed in our homes, on the street, in our educational institutions, work environments, criminal justice system, and government. These oppressions contribute directly to victim-blaming and the normalization of rape culture.

Interpersonal Violence

Interpersonal violence is a pattern of harmful language and/or behaviors that fall on the spectrum of violence used with the intent to maintain control and exert power over others. Commonly understood to occur only between intimate and/or sexual partners, this may also include a household member, family member, friend, roommate, etc. Regardless of the nature of the relationship, abuse may occur in a verbal, emotional, financial, physical, sexual (or any combination) or other contexts.  Other terms may include domestic violence, dating violence, intimate partner violence, and relationship abuse.


Intersectionality is a framework for understanding interrelated cultural patterns of oppression. This approach demands inclusion of the multi-faceted, multi-layered lives and identities into all socio-political narratives - from dominant narratives to those that challenge them. Historically the Western feminist movement has lacked an intersectional lens, amplifying the voices of white, middle-class, cisgender, able-bodied women. Although feminism was meant to confront the patriarchal narrative, by refusing an intersectional approach, it reinforced the marginalization of those whose voices were never included. No social justice or anti-violence movement will be successful without recognizing systemic social inequalities and reframing the narrative to advance equity for all people.


Oppression is how a dominant group of people, joined by a common identity or set of identities, benefits from unequal treatment, manifested in the systematic abuse, exploitation, and injustice directed toward a subordinate group. Oppression is rooted in the historical and continued application of arbitrary value judgments applied to the subordinate group, carried out by those individuals or groups claiming entitlement to power.  The most unyielding obstacles to equality come from institutions created by individuals in power. Without the element of power, one may exercise prejudice, but not oppression. Understanding how oppression manifests in each of these spheres is integral to challenging the system as a whole. Forms of oppression such as racism, ableism, homophobia, and misogyny contextualize acts of gender-based violence, requiring the need for intersectionality.


Patriarchy is an ideological system in which masculine individuals (primarily, but not exclusively cisgender men) hold power and are privileged over other genders. Patriarchy affords this group the social privilege, moral authority, and status to control most public and private spaces, industries, and influence. Wielding the majority of power also includes defining and shaping the rules that allocate benefits and advantages, upholding their entitlement to make decisions that govern others’ lives. Prescribed gender roles, the practice of hegemonic masculinity and hyper-femininity are employed by patriarchy, to maintain status and privilege for one group (men) over others. As with other types of oppression, social conditioning makes it difficult to unlearn and reject the rules of patriarchy, even by those it harms.


A perpetrator is someone who has committed an act along the spectrum of violence. Other terms used in administrative, legal, and social settings might include rapist, defendant, accused, abuser, offender, respondent, or, less commonly, stalker, harasser, etc. Survivors have the right to use the language they feel most comfortable with. Because “perpetrator” has negative social connotations, a survivor might prefer the term “person who caused harm” or “someone engaging in harmful behaviors.” These terms still recognize the severity of the acts committed, but perhaps allow for those who have caused harm to own their actions and hold themselves accountable without identifying as “perpetrator”. Challenging the terms “perpetrator” or “rapist” or “abuser” is not meant to undermine the experience, but rather to underscore the lack of language available to conceptualize the incident and its effects that occurred as opposed to the character of the person.

Power-based Violence

Power-based Violence is behavior involving power, control, and coercion used to harm someone else. The term is sometimes used in place of the term “gender-based violence”, but referring to this violence as “power-based” acknowledges that all genders can experience and perpetrate this kind of violence. It is important to understand that the gender dynamics that facilitate violence are, in essence, power dynamics. Implicating power as the root of violence reflects that power underlies gender inequity and discrimination and that gender intersects with other forms of identity and status to form unique matrices of oppression. In addition to gender, power may also be leveraged using socioeconomic status, immigration status, race, ability, class, and professional and educational hierarchies.


Rape is a legal term that is defined in Massachusetts by three elements: penetration of any orifice by any object, force or threat of force, and against the will of the victim. Consent cannot legally be given if a person is incapacitated, underage, mentally challenged, unconscious, or asleep. It is distinguished from sexual assault only in that it requires penetration.

Rape Culture

Rape Culture is the set of deeply entrenched societal attitudes and beliefs that normalize sexual violence. It is demonstrated through media, language, and policy, promoting sexual objectification and coercion, lack of agency over one’s body, and dismissal of feminine-presenting or gender nonconforming individuals as not “fully human.” Rape culture is ubiquitous in representing violence as “sexy”, “alluring” and “hot” - it’s in everything from the magazines we read, the movies we watch, the music we love, to the language we use to talk about sex, and the laws that govern bodies and behavior. Rape culture privileges perceived virginity and sexual purity, reinforcing the idea that violence happens to those who present, live, and act outside of traditional norms. Someone who has experienced sexual violence whose identity is on the margins of mainstream culture is more likely to face additional barriers to disclosing, reporting, seeking treatment, and justice. Rape culture relies on other systems of oppression to perpetuate victim blaming and gender inequity, including hegemonic masculinity and patriarchy.

Restorative Justice

Restorative Justice is a response to wrongdoing that puts restoration of individuals, both victim and perpetrator, and communities as its stated aim (rather than punishment). This response requires the participation of multiple stakeholders. Core values of restorative justice include healing from hurt, moral learning, community building, respectful dialogue, accountability, apology, and forgiveness. Often (though not always) these values are achieved through mediation, dialogue, or restorative justice circles. While each of these methods varies slightly, they all hinge upon the importance of perpetrators voluntarily accepting responsibility for their actions and the impact of their actions on others. Furthermore, each method involves victims and community members (including people that care about the victim and that care about the offender) in acknowledging the harm that has been done and working together to rebuild community, support the victim, and ensure the perpetrator does not offend again.


Self-care is a method for individuals, teams, and organizations to address the negative repercussions of secondary trauma physically, psychologically/mentally, emotionally/relationally, and spiritually in the professional realm. Being aware of and attentive to needs, promoting a healthy balance in all aspects of work, and connecting to one’s self and others allows staffers to be present, emotionally safe, and empowered to bring their true selves and best work to interactions with themselves, survivors, communities, and colleagues.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

― Audre Lorde


Self-Efficacy refers to an individual’s belief in their capacity to successfully perform an action. It also reflects confidence in their ability to control their motivation to act and the social environment wherein the action is taking place. An individual’s self-efficacy to intervene in a potentially harmful situation is influenced by the beliefs and attitudes they hold, the social consequences to interrupting the situation, and the perceived benefits or barriers to confrontation. In order to achieve cultural reform and social progress, individuals must feel validated in confronting rape culture and gender inequity in their personal, academic, and professional spaces. Programs that successfully build self-efficacy incorporate 1) positive reinforcement, 2) observing someone similar to you successfully performing the behavior, and 3) constructive criticism through trial and error. An individual’s self-efficacy constantly changes depending on the situation as well as the evolving social environment - for example, confronting an acquaintance’s sexist social media post may require a different level of self-efficacy than a family member’s racist comment at a holiday party. Building self-efficacy is not contingent on a successful outcome, but rather the continued effort.

Sexual Assault

Sexual Assault is a legal term referring to any unwanted sexual contact, such as fondling, groping, or penetration of any orifice by any body part or object.  Sexual Assault is not related to sexual pleasure or gratification, but instead is about the desire (conscious or otherwise) for power and control over another person.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment is any expression or behavior that can be interpreted to be of a sexual nature and is unwelcome by the recipient. Examples include unwelcome sexual advances or flirting, inappropriate sexual jokes or derogatory language regarding someone’s physical appearance, perceived or actual gender identity or sexual orientation, and acts of sexual assault. In many instances, someone who has experienced harassment may have a difficult time recognizing it because rape culture has normalized sexual objectification to feel commonplace.  It is also complicated by different cultural understandings of gender, sex, and relationships.  The bottom line is, if something makes you uncomfortable, it is worth talking about.

Sexual Objectification

Sexual Objectification is the practice of treating a person as an object to be consumed, placing their worth on their body and appearance. It is a tool of the patriarchy, normalized by rape culture, disproportionately impacting women. Sexual objectification may result in insidious trauma as a result of repeatedly denying an individual their personhood.  This happens when a person is commodified through their body parts (legs, butt, breasts) and determined to be valuable based on their perceived achievement of cultural standards of beauty.  We see many examples of sexual objectification in advertising.  Commercials or print ads that use scantily clad women or a part of their body to sell a product or service - completely unrelated to that body part - such as a burger, vehicle, or alcoholic beverage, are relying on the sexual objectification of women’s bodies to make their product appear sexy.  These images are used to measure the worth and desirability of all women based on how closely they resemble what is represented in media.

Sexual Violence

Sexual Violence is an umbrella term encompassing sexual harassment, stalking, interpersonal violence (commonly referred to as domestic or dating violence), sexual assault and rape.  It is not meant to be used interchangeably with these terms, but rather to signify the connection between acts on the spectrum of violence.


Slut-shaming is the act of making someone, usually women and feminine-presenting individuals, feel guilty or ashamed for their real or perceived sexual behavior. Slut-shaming encompasses everything from calling someone names like “slut” and “whore” to justifying a person’s sexual assault by saying “they were asking for it.” Slut-shaming can be both obvious or insidious. It can be used to criticize someone for having too much sex, and it can be used to criticize someone for being “a tease.” It can even be used to further marginalize women of color with stereotypes of hypersexualization and people of lower socioeconomic status. Slut-shaming is a tool of patriarchy used to suppress and stigmatize female sexuality and to enforce gendered double standards about sexual behavior. Slut-shaming is one side of the virgin/whore dichotomy, which puts women in the position of choosing to be a “slut” for expressing their sexual desires or a “prude” for failing to conform to an oversexualized image of femininity. This paradox is emblematic of the dehumanization of women that rape culture perpetuates; that the “ideal” woman cannot actually exist reflects the fact that women are defined by society in terms of their value to men, rather than by their own agency. When we deny a person’s humanity, we are indirectly validating attitudes that contribute to sexual violence.

Social Change Communication

Social Change Communication is central to a public health approach to the work of sexual violence prevention.  The focus is on enabling groups of individuals to engage in a collaborative process to define their needs, access their rights, and transform their communities and systems. Through our peer educator training, workshop curricula, and social mobilization campaigns, we emphasize public and private dialogue to change behavior at a community-level. Raising awareness of how structural and social inequalities determine health, mobility, and access is integral to this model. Several channels can be employed including interpersonal communication, community dialogue, and mass/social media.

Social-Ecological Model

The Social-Ecological Model (SEM) is a public health strategy for effecting behavior change that requires engagement at the individual, relationship, community, and societal levels. Every level of the SEM shapes the attitudes and behaviors of an individual. For a program to successfully  address each level of influence, messages must be consistent and reinforced at each level.  Practically, this means that media, laws, and interpersonal relationships (be it acquaintance, friendship, or romantic) all share responsibility for impacting our attitudes and behaviors.  You might call out a friend for sexist comments, but if their attitudes have been shaped by family values and reinforced by mainstream media or legislation, that feedback will be seen as inconsistent and is less likely to be impactful. However, if the same person who is called out by their friends is also exposed to media that dispels sexist notions such as body shaming, and is beholden to legislation promoting gender equity, they are more likely to perceive that feedback as positive and beneficial. The messages people receive and internalize directly affect their attitudes and behavior; therefore, OSAPR is committed to working across the social-ecological model to promote gender equity at every sphere of influence.

Spectrum of Violence

In the field of gender-based violence prevention, the spectrum of violence is a model used to conceptualize incidents of verbal, emotional, sexual, or physical harm on a continuum. Harmful or antagonistic language can occur as a single incident and may escalate to acts of physical violence of increasing severity. All attitudes and behaviors on this spectrum exist within a culture of gender inequity. Violence does not happen in isolation - attitudes expressed through street harassment and slut-shaming reinforce and facilitate behavior such as unwanted touching, stalking, and/or sexual assault. It is essential to acknowledge these attitudes and connections to make progress in preventing sexual violence.


Stalking is repeated harassment or threatening behavior toward another person. Stalking behaviors may include persistent patterns of leaving or sending someone unwanted items or presents, following or lying in wait for someone, damaging or threatening to damage property, defaming someone's character, or harassing someone by posting personal information and/or spreading rumors. To an outsider, the stalker's behavior might appear friendly and unthreatening, for example, showering someone with gifts or flattering messages. But, these acts are intrusive and frightening if they are unwelcome. Frequently, harassing behavior escalates into threatening behavior. These threats may be direct or indirect, explicit or implied by the stalker’s conduct.  Like intimate partner violence, stalking behavior is based in power and control. It is important to trust your instinct and get help if you believe you are being stalked.

Standards of Evidence

Standards of Evidence - are used to evaluate whether or not a crime or violation of a code of conduct has occurred. Beyond a reasonable doubt is the standard of evidence used in American criminal courts to determine certainty of a defendant’s guilt.  A high standard must be met because a guilty verdict can result in the loss of liberty (imprisonment).  Criticism of this standard exists because in cases of sexual assault, it places a burden of proof on the victim. Oftentimes there are no witnesses to sexual assaults, leaving room for doubt or uncertainty, making conviction difficult. Preponderance of evidence is the standard used in American civil courts. According to this standard, the evidence suggests that an incident is “more likely than not” to have occurred. Many victims may be hesitant to contact police or have evidence collected due to fear of mistreatment, victim blaming, or shame, making criminal prosecution impossible. A federal directive requires K-12 and postsecondary schools to apply a preponderance of evidence standard in adjudicating cases of sexual violence. Ideally, with this standard, a victim’s options for adjudication are increased, not requiring a police report or medical evidence to proceed or convict.  


Survivor refers to anyone who has been harmed as a result of gender-based violence and has survived the incident(s). Since language has the ability to help or hinder the healing process, using “survivor” is a hopeful attempt to bring to center the agency and resiliency of those who have experienced a trauma. It is most often used by other survivors, advocates, counselors, and activists who walk with someone as they navigate the after effect of trauma.

OSAPR understands that every person who has been impacted by gender-based violence may not identify with the terms 'survivor' or 'victim.' We make neither assumptions about people’s experiences or identities nor judgments about how someone holds those things or where they are in the ebb and flow of the healing process. Above all, we respect how folks choose to talk about and name their experiences - if at all.

"I don’t know what to call myself these days. Victim/survivor feels inadequate. I want new language. I want new structures and systems and institutions that affirm and support vulnerability, instability, and anger." - Dana Bolger, “Hurry Up and Heal”: Pain, Productivity, and the Inadequacy of ‘Victim’ vs. ‘Survivor’, December 10, 2014.

Survivor Centered

Survivor-centered refers to service providers and policies that value and allow for a survivor’s active partnership accessing comprehensive information, services, and support on their own terms.  This practice is a trauma-informed approach, focusing on the whole individual within the context of why violence occurs, rather than their reaction to an event, their perceived disorder, or the incident that caused harm.

Transformative Justice

Transformative Justice is a model seeking to alleviate harm as an alternative to the criminal justice system.  It attempts to account for the experiences of both victim and perpetrator, as well as the communities where harm occurred.  It is a response that understands violence as symptomatic of structural injustice while holding individuals accountable and helping communities heal. Transformative justice differs from restorative justice in its aim to educate all parties as to why harm occurred.  The model hopes that through education, communities and individuals are motivated to recognize wrong-doing and holistically work toward restitution and nonviolence.


Trauma can be described as a normal response to an emotionally harmful incident or series of incidents experienced by a person or community.  Most frequently we associate trauma with a specific event, but it is equally important to consider the emotional impact of systemic oppression on the lives of individuals and communities.  It is not the incident itself but the experience of circumstances that determines trauma.  What one person experiences as traumatic may have relatively low or no impact on someone else. Natural coping mechanisms are overwhelmed during and after the experience(s) and as a result, trauma induces short-term ramifications such as heightened fear, anxiety, or shock. Additionally, trauma may have lasting adverse effects on complete health and wellness resulting, for an individual, in possible social isolation, physical pain, depression, or a change in sexual behavior; for communities it may result in a distrust of outsiders or authorities, cyclical violence, or poverty.


Trauma-informed refers to provision of service centered on the understanding that trauma may be the result of many things, not all of which are obvious or visible, and can happen to anyone.  It is a holistic approach that considers the historical and cultural context of how trauma occurs, and attempts to address the needs and wishes of the individual with this understanding. This type of service delivery is offered in partnership with the person seeking care.  A trauma-informed approach can be implemented by therapists, doctors, educators, and employers, so long as there is a commitment to collaboration, transparency, empathy, and compassion. You might recognize trauma-informed care from your doctor if they ask you for your consent before initiating any physical exam that involves touching. For example, a gynecologist may let their patient insert their own speculum, something that gives the patient more control over the experience and builds trust with the provider.  A therapist may collaborate on a treatment plan with goals identified by you, as opposed to goals they identify as the expert on your behalf.  Trauma-informed policies are written with an understanding that oppression has long been codified at the individual, institutional, and societal levels, and intentional steps must be taken not just to demonstrate equality under the law, but also to correct for historical and continued inequity.

Copy and paste this code to your website.
Copy and paste this code to your website.

Unwelcome Conduct*

*From the definition in our University Policy

Conduct is unwelcome if a person (1) did not request or invite it and (2) regarded the unrequested or uninvited conduct as undesirable or offensive. That a person welcomes some sexual contact does not necessarily mean that person welcomes other sexual contact. Similarly, that a person willingly participates in conduct on one occasion does not necessarily mean that the same conduct is welcome on a subsequent occasion.

Whether conduct is unwelcome is determined based on the totality of the circumstances, including various objective and subjective factors. The following types of information may be 3 helpful in making that determination: statements by any witnesses to the alleged incident; information about the relative credibility of the parties and witnesses; the detail and consistency of each person’s account; the absence of corroborating information where it should logically exist; information that the Respondent has been found to have harassed others; information that the Complainant has been found to have made false allegations against others; information about the Complainant’s reaction or behavior after the alleged incident; and information about any actions the parties took immediately following the incident, including reporting the matter to others.

In addition, when a person is so impaired or incapacitated as to be incapable of requesting or inviting the conduct, conduct of a sexual nature is deemed unwelcome, provided that the Respondent knew or reasonably should have known of the person’s impairment or incapacity. The person may be impaired or incapacitated as a result of drugs or alcohol or for some other reason, such as sleep or unconsciousness. A Respondent’s impairment at the time of the incident as a result of drugs or alcohol does not, however, diminish the Respondent’s responsibility for sexual or gender-based harassment under this Policy.

Vicarious Trauma

Vicarious Trauma, sometimes referred to as Secondary Trauma, is the transference of trauma from the person who has experienced an incident (or incidents) to the person hearing the disclosure.  Vicarious trauma is common in professionals, but also occurs among friends and family members offering support to survivors.  Symptoms of vicarious trauma may include similar symptoms experienced by those with primary trauma- including, but not limited to fatigue, anxiety, depression, and fear.  Vicarious trauma may also result in compassion fatigue, or feeling like you are low on empathy for some (or all) situations you encounter that feel less ‘serious’ than the trauma you have seen or heard.


Victim is a legal term which may be used intentionally to emphasize that sexual violence is a crime with a spectrum of damaging and enduring effects whether or not the act(s) are reported to or adjudicated in the campus administrative, the criminal justice, or the civil systems. Additionally, it is used to signify people who have experienced abuse who are no longer alive.
At times, the term victim may also be used to underscore that violence and trauma do not occur in vacuums but in the context of societies and cultures where they are experienced. Ideally, it removes the focus from the individual and their response to a traumatic event and situates it onto the societal contexts where biased systems, structures, and ideologies reproduce oppressions and further compound trauma.

OSAPR understands that every person who has been impacted by gender-based violence may not identify with the terms 'survivor' or 'victim.' We make neither assumptions about people’s experiences or identities nor judgments about how someone holds those things or where they are in the ebb and flow of the healing process. Above all, we respect how folks choose to talk about and name their experiences - if at all.

Victim Blaming

Victim Blaming is labeling a victim of harassment, bullying, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, stalking, etc. as responsible for the actions of the perpetrator. One of the reasons people engage in victim blaming, is because if sexual violence can happen to anyone, it threatens our sense that the world is a safe and just place. Victim blaming is facilitated by rape culture, which puts forward the idea of a “perfect victim” - someone who meets a set of criteria where they would not deserve harm. This person must fit within our cultural standards of beauty, including body type and the way they dress; actively avoid danger, including (but not limited to) refusing the advances of strangers, watching their drinks, not consuming alcohol, walking home in well lit areas with friends during a reasonable hour of the day; and be someone we want to believe, most likely someone occupying many categories of privilege. Anyone outside this standard is subject to criticism, questioning, and disbelief. Victim blaming makes it difficult for a person who has experienced harm to access care, resources, and adjudication for fear of ridicule, self doubt, or social consequence. Both prevention and advocacy services must include education on confronting rape culture and challenging victim blaming attitudes to directly address the context for violence and barriers to seeking care.