Terms & Vocabulary

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(Content adapted from NSVRC materials unless otherwise specified)


Consent is the voluntary, positive agreement between individuals to engage in a specific activity. This is the very crux of the understanding of sexual violence and the survivor’s experience.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Lack of agreement or silence is not consent.
  • Not fighting back is not consent.
  • Having consented in the past is not consent in the present.
  • Consent to activity A is not consent to activity B.
  • Being unable to give or withhold consent (because of cognitive disability, for example, or being intoxicated) is not consent.
  • Giving in is not the same as giving consent – it may be a survival strategy, an attempt to avoid worse harm, or a sign that a survivor senses there are no other options.

Consent is often misunderstood by the general public, first responders, and survivors themselves. Consent is an active, not a passive agreement.

Sexual violence

Sexual violence means that someone forces or manipulates someone else into unwanted sexual activity without their consent. Anyone can experience sexual violence, including children, teens, adults, and elders. Those who sexually abuse can be acquaintances, family members, trusted individuals or strangers. (National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 2010)

Domestic violence

Domestic Violence is a pattern of violent and coercive behaviors between individuals involved in intimate or familial relationships. It involves the use of verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual, economic, and physical forms of abuse by one individual or group of individuals to maintain power and control over another person. Anyone can experience domestic violence.


(Adapted from the National Institute Of Justice)

Like domestic violence, stalking is a crime of power and control. Stalking is conservatively defined as “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that involves repeated (two or more occasions) visual or physical proximity, nonconsensual communication, or verbal, written, or implied threats, or a combination thereof, that would cause a reasonable person fear.

Human Trafficking

An organized criminal activity in which humans are controlled or used as possessions to be exploited, such as being forced into involuntary labor or prostitution, which leads to sex trafficking.


A person who is specially trained to provide survivor-centered support, information, and referral to those who have been subjected to sexual or domestic violence. Advocates provide support that is grounded in the survivor’s self-identified needs, ensures that survivors have the resources to make well-informed decisions about their care and options, ensures compliance with victims’ rights laws and honors the survivor’s resiliency and right to exercise control over their lives. Advocates work closely with community providers such as mental health therapists, medical and criminal justice professionals to ensure that survivors have trauma-informed and competent care.


Individuals who have been traumatized by incidents of violence can experience a return to the sense of impending danger by sensory stimulants (smells, sights, sounds, being in a confined space, etc.) that are connected with the circumstances and experience of the original assault. These stimuli are called triggers and can cause the survival system to set in motion just as it did during the original experience of trauma. Survivors often learn what their triggers are and work to avoid them.


The systematic, institutionalized, unjust, or cruel exercise of authority or mistreatment of one group of people by another group of people, based on historical and current structures in society. People oppressed are excluded from resources, benefits (safety is a benefit) and/or opportunities in society. In this field we understand that acts of sexual & domestic violence become the tools of oppression, and not only sexist oppression. Oppression is the system of power that excuses, justifies or ignores harm of those with less power. It is well known that groups with less power, or oppressed groups, such as children, females, people with disabilities, people of color, LGBTQ people, inmates, people living in poverty, immigrants/refugees, or those on the losing side in a war experience violence at rates higher than the majority population. The sexual assault & domestic violence advocacy field understands this not a result of an innate flaw in those communities. Rather we understand that offenses against members of these communities are more likely to go unaddressed, uninvestigated and unseen because of how these communities are marginalized.


A form of oppression based on gender – the belief that there is a superior gender and the power to act on that belief and deny access to social capital. Sexism also contributes to the oppression of “gender non-conforming” and non-binary individuals by creating the assumption that there are only two distinct genders in the human population.


A form of oppression based on race – the belief that some people are innately superior to others due to racial characteristics plus the social/political power to act on that belief and deny rights access to social capital.


A form of oppression based on social class – the belief that those with wealth, family heritage and social standing in a community are superior to others and the power to act on that belief and deny rights and access to social capital.


A form of oppression based on sexual orientation – the belief that straight people are superior and the power to act on that belief and deny rights and access to social capital.


A form of oppression based on ability – the belief that people with physical, developmental and emotional disabilities are inferior and the power to act on that belief and deny rights and access to social capital.


A form of oppression based on practice of or devotion to religion that is not seen to be part of a traditional religious tradition in the United States. Those who follow traditional religious practices are superior and have access to rights and social capital.

Rape culture

Rape culture is a term that was coined by feminists in the United States in the 1970’s. It was designed to show the ways in which society blamed survivors of sexual assault and normalized male sexual violence. Rape culture is understood as a complex set of beliefs that encourage sexual aggression and support sexual violence. It is a society that values silence, secrecy and privacy so that incidents of sexual violence remain hidden. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, targets of rape perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women and other vulnerable groups as the norm. In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable.


The Victims of Crimes Act is a unique source of fund that is administered by the federal government. VOCA funds come from criminal fines, forfeited bail bonds, penalty fees, and special assessments collected by U.S. Attorney’s Offices, U.S. Courts, and the Bureau of Prisons. These dollars come from offenders convicted of Federal crimes, not from taxpayers. VOCA funds support core advocacy services for all types of crime victims.


The Violence Against Women Act was first passed by Congress in 1994 and was reauthorized in 2000, 2005 and 2013. VAWA has made significant funding available to address sexual violence, domestic violence, stalking, and dating violence. Funding has been targeted to services for survivors as well as systems-change initiatives to enhance the community response to survivors. While named the Violence Against Women Act, male survivors of this violence also come under the umbrella of services. In addition to funding, VAWA has prompted significant federal law and policy change to ensure best practices in response to these crimes, including:

  • Polygraphing of sexual assault survivors cannot be used to determine whether or not to move forward with a case
  • Survivors cannot be billed for rape kit exams out of pocket costs
  • Survivors do not have to report the assault to law enforcement in order to have payment of the exam costs covered.

Sexual Assault Services Program (SASP) is funding specifically designated under VAWA to support community based advocacy services for survivors.

Title IX

A section of the Education Amendments of 1972 to the US Civil Rights Act. Title IX is a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. The principal objective of Title IX is to avoid the use of federal money to support sex discrimination in education programs and to provide individuals effective protection against those practices. Title IX has been most often understood as the impetus to support equal access to and quality of athletic activities for girls/women in educational institutions. Recently, however, there has been an enhanced focus on Title IX as the legal impetus to challenge the response of educational institutions to incidents of sexual assault/violence on school campuses. The absent or poor response to reports of gender violence such as rape on campus creates a hostile environment that in fact discriminates against female students. The resulting harm for students is in violation of the protection that Title IX seeks to ensure. The powerful “Dear Colleague” letter from some members of Congress in 2011 makes a strong case for citing the broad incidence of sexual violence on campus as a failure of compliance with Title IX putting access to federal funds in jeopardy.


The Prison Rape Elimination Act is a federal law that passed in 2003. PREA requires all states to enact protections for those who experience sexual violence in any detention facility (prison, jail, INS detention, juvenile detention, etc.). PREA calls for formal working relationships between detention facilities and advocacy organizations to ensure that survivors have access to community based advocacy, support and access to victim rights. In addition to providing advocacy to survivors in detention facilities, PREA also directs facilities to work to prevent future assaults. PREA is an unfunded mandate.