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Why This Senator Wants To Change The Way We Discuss Sexual Assault

By: Kimberly Truong


When it comes to sexual assault and sexual violence, the language that we use is important. That's why, at Refinery29, we refer to those who have been sexually assaulted as survivors, not victims — and Senator Jeanne Shaheen just made a point about why this matters.

This morning, Shaheen questioned Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley and United States Marine Corps General Robert Neller over the U.S. Marines sharing nude photos of women Marines.

When Neller referred to sexual assault survivors as victims, Shaheen said, "I would suggest you use the term survivor, rather than victim, for those people who have been attacked."

"Yes ma’am," he replied.

During the hearing, Shaheen also pressed Neller and Stackley to hold those responsible for sexual assault accountable, and asked what they planned to do to prevent this from happening in the future.

"I would argue one of the challenges is that people are not being held accountable in a way that sends a very strong message to others that they serve with that this is unacceptable behavior," she said. "It's hard to believe something is really going to be done. Why should we believe it's going to be different this time than it has in the past?"

Throughout her career, Shaheen has been a leader in the fight against sexual assault and violence, particularly within the military. Last year, Shaheen also talked to us about the the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act, a legislation she introduced to establish standards for how we treat survivors of sexual assault.

Given that sexual assault survivors are often still blamed for their assault, it's no surprise that many don't come forward. For that to change, we need to start with our rhetoric and how we talk about survivors, as Shaheen says.

If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).