An unusual choice of words.

I’m listening to NPR (National Public Radio) this morning. They’re reporting on the Pope’s private meetings with sexual abuse “survivors.”

While I certainly don’t mean to take anything away from the situation — children and young people molested or sexually abused by Catholic priests they trusted — the term survivor seems a little extreme as a label for these now grown people. The first definition of survivor in the dictionary that’s part of Mac OS X is:

a person who survives, esp. a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died : the sole survivor of the massacre.

And that’s how I usually think of a survivor. Consider the phrases Hurricane Katrina survivor, cancer survivor, Titanic survivor. Surely you can come up with others.

But the dictionary goes on to offer the following alternative definition for survivor:

the remainder of a group of people or things : a survivor from last year’s team.


a person who copes well with difficulties in their life : she is a born survivor.

Indeed: either of these definitions would apply to these unfortunate people.

What do you think? Is the term survivor an appropriate label for these people? Can you come up with a better label? Perhaps one you heard or read in the media? As someone interested in words, I’m curious.

2 thoughts on “Survivors?

  1. You have touched on a sensitive nerve in this grumpy elder. For the record, I find it a dreadful usage — an attempt to magnify victimhood, however unfortunate, into a near-death experience. One of many exaggerations of experience in the modern world.

    GrannyJ’s last blog post..Findings Found

  2. I think there are a couple of things at play here. For one thing, sexual abuse can and does wreak havoc on anyone. It can destroy lives. Overcoming sexual abuse can be a heroic achievement.

    For another: a survivor here is someone who has reclaimed the power over their own life and destiny. Rather than having their lives shaped and moulded by the actions of another they are actively creating their own futures. Survivor is a proud word to describe these acts of reclaiming one’s own destiny.

    In the past people have been described as ‘suffering’ or being ‘victims’ of things like sexual abuse or disease. Those are negative and disempowering words. They describe passive people whose lives are controlled by events over which they have no sway.

    ‘Survivor’ takes power away from the perpetrator of abuse and gives it to the person who is coming out from the passive shadow to claim a place in the light.

    Miraz Jordan’s last blog post..Who are the experts in document accessibility on the Mac?

What do you think?