Key Terms and Phrases

We often receive questions about using the “right” term or phrase. Here’s how we choose the language that we use.

Victim or Survivor?

One of the most frequent questions we receive is, “Should I use the term victim or survivor?” Both terms are applicable. RAINN tends to use the term “victim” when referring to someone who has recently been affected by sexual violence; when discussing a particular crime; or when referring to aspects of the criminal justice system.

We often use “survivor” to refer to someone who has gone through the recovery process, or when discussing the short- or long-term effects of sexual violence.

Some people identify as a victim, while others prefer the term survivor. The best way to be respectful is to ask for their preference.

Sexual Assault, or Rape, or Sexual Violence?

It depends on whether we are describing a particular criminal act, or speaking generally about the issue. If we’re referring to a particular criminal act, we try to use the specific legal description that best fits. This can be tricky, since each state uses different terms, from sexual assault, to rape, to sexual battery. To see how your state legally defines these crimes, visit RAINN's State Law Database.

When speaking about these crimes generally, we use “sexual violence” as an all-encompassing, non-legal term that refers to crimes like sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse.

Date Rape or Rape?

We avoid using the terms “date rape” or “acquaintance rape” and urge others not to use these descriptions. These terms may lead to confusion that “date rape” is somehow different or less serious than rape. In fact, in  eight out of 10 of sexual assaults, the perpetrator is someone the victim knows. Instead, we name the crime, followed by information about the perpetrator. For example, it’s appropriate to say that someone was “sexually assaulted by a intimate partner” or “sexually abused by a family member.”

Members of the media

Have additional questions? Send your requests to For more information about RAINN’s programs and resources for journalists, check out RAINN’s news and press page.

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