The purpose of this section is to provide information about survivors and their experiences with sexual violence. This section will cover Rape Trauma Syndrome, common reactions to sexual violence, and sexual violence within underrepresented communities and communities of color. It is designed to help panelists understand unique issues and barriers experienced by survivors, including survivors within underrepresented communities, and why survivors may react in certain ways throughout a hearing process.
Why do we say “survivor?”
We often hear various terms used to describe a person who has experienced sexual assault. Among them are “victim” and “survivor.” We, along with many other experts in the field, use the term “survivor” because it is a more empowering term. Because so much power is taken from a person when she or he is raped, the idea is to restore that sense of power. Thus, the term “survivor” is more empowering and potentially helps in the healing process. Although people who have experienced sexual violence are victims, they are “surviving” the experience. The idea of survival carries within its definition the continual fight to live or “survive” an adverse or traumatizing experience. Survivors of sexual violence are in a battle to survive a multitude of feelings, tread through emotion, and overcome the “aftermath” of betrayal that the act of violence has caused.
The California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) Campus Training and Technical Assistance Institute conducted a training in 2007 entitled, “Building a Campus Community: Critical Challenges in Upholding Judicial and Community Standards.” In this training, Jeffrey T. Burgin, Jr. of the Dean of Students Office at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga referred to sexual assault in the following way: “Sexual assault is a physically, emotionally, and spiritually traumatic experience, an intimate violation of the worst kind.” (Burgin, 2007). Below is more information about the trauma of sexual assault.