Victim No More

Vlog Summary: Candace A. McCullough shares her perspective
on the debate over which ASL sign to use for the word “victim”. A close
look at the meaning of the English word “victim” reveals that it is already
a word loaded with negative implications. The word is viewed as problematic
by many professionals in the helping field. If we look to ASL and how our
language describes people who have experienced traumatic events, we can see that Deaf people have done just fine expressing ourselves, without needing to incorporate the English word “victim” into ASL.

To cite:

McCullough, C. (2007, June 13). Victim No More. ASC on the Couch. Retrieved June 13, 2007, from http://www.ascdeaf.com/blog/?p=316

  1. Katie June 13, 2007

    Interpreters contribute largely to our problems. They are always asking us to come up with signs because they are often translating instead of interpreting. We have to work hard to keep our beautiful ASL.

  2. Mishkazena June 13, 2007

    Interesting. I didn’t know the older ASL-using Deaf people back then didn’t used the word victims.

    What about the sign ‘survivor’, either? That is a positive sign, isn’t it, for people who went through traumatic abuses? The hearing people working in domestic violence field use that word, survivor, rather than victims.

  3. White Ghost June 13, 2007

    I never thought of the word, “victim” could be the broad definitions.

    The word, “victim” could be the neutral word, for what it is based on the “non-violence” such as earthquake, hurriacne, etc.

    As for the Domestic Violence (DV), the word, “victim” could be very insensitive to the people who went through the stages of DV. I know it would be very hard for us to call them as “Victim.” What do we call them?

    So, I would rather to use fingerspell in “Victim” so that way it could be neutral and be more respectful.

    Candy, it is a good debate.

  4. White Ghost June 13, 2007

    Mishka —

    I am not sure if the DV would accept the word, Survivor, either…You know the memories/rememberances could have hurted the DV people’s life.

    I know we have to be careful what we are saying….

    Candy, any advice?

  5. Deaf Farmer June 13, 2007

    Yes, I agree with you. I tend to sign “Person Self finish experience rape or abuse or whatever” instead of ‘V’ on the neck. It is true ASL. I don’t know where ‘V’ sign comes from. I hope they agree with you and they are willing to sign like above (True ASL).

    Thanks for bringing up!

  6. drmzz June 13, 2007

    Appropiate shift. Just place it on the aversive experience itself. Right, don’t see victim sign in my families either, just the experiences a person went thru. It suggests empathy instead of discrimination. Also we talk about proactive solutions this person takes too.

  7. drmzz June 13, 2007

    Correction, proactive means. We recognize the strengths the person will do to overcome such situations.

  8. Oscar the Observer June 13, 2007

    The sad thing is that some people STILL connect cognitively ASL and English when either signing or listening to signing. I train and train to sever these two languages because as we REPEATEDLY say ASL is a true language with all rights that adhere to being a language. Therefore, when I listen or sign, mentally I boot out English EXCEPT when I have to “loan” English word here and there. That is why I agree that generally we do not need to sign CL-V to neck unless we emphasizes the concept or idea (whatever you want to term it).
    My opinion :).

  9. John Krueger June 13, 2007

    I feel by using victim label, person who it happened to will become powerless. That person will learn to be helpless or that person will contine to take advantage of other people’s empathy and desire to help.

  10. Katherine June 13, 2007

    It does make sense. The elaboration of a specific incident that a person experiences, to a point of victimization, will allow others
    to empathize and understand. I do not see how just by using the
    word, “victim,” will help raise awareness. ASL is known for its strength in elaboration and description in general.

  11. Bob Rourke June 13, 2007

    I have seen more hearing people who are in the such fields encourage others to use “survivor” instead of “victim”. As you did sign, “survive” so that probably makes more sense. Good debate, though! Thanks, Bob Rourke

  12. Diana June 13, 2007

    I agree with you. It is better to use finger spelling for victim. People can misunderstand and they may think it is virgin.
    Wonderful job! Smile!

  13. Diane June 13, 2007

    “Survivor” immediately popped up in my mind as I watched your vlog. I think it makes sense to me. Using the word “victim” .. it depends on what we have to say – If that person is currently victimized by the DV or whatever I would say “victim” as stuck. Once that person survived thru the DV — I would call her a survivor. An Interesting discussion — glad to hear your perspective. Diane

  14. Ella Lentz June 13, 2007

    Love this discussion! ITs time now to be more serious about how to best express things in ASL, both casually and professionally, instead of resorting to excessive incorporation of English-equivalents. Sure, we can “borrow” some terms as we are a bilingual community, but we never really as a whole community consciously study and explore formally how to discuss professional or academic issues with ASL. It’s time. Thanks.

  15. Jean Boutcher June 13, 2007

    Albeit existent in dictionaries for years, the term, “victim” — derived from Latin for VICTIMA
    to define a person who is harmed as a result of “a voluntary undertaking or swindled as a result of a cruel hoax — had not been used by my deaf mother or by her contemporary deaf friends between 1930s and 1970s either — or among hearing women, for that matter. Women endured domestic violence because they wrongly thought that it was their fault. Women were taught to be silently suffering and obedient to their husbands because the latter were the ones who gave women and children bread daily. They would rejoice, “I survive through my husband’s mental cruelty, verbal abuse, ad infinitum.” Should she open her mouth to the public, she would be ostracised not only by men but also by hypocritic women. It was one of my heroes Gloria Steinem who made a rude awakending by becoming a leader of the Feminist Movement in 1962. (Many women, including Eagle Forum president Phyllis Schyfly, vigorously condemned Steinmen’s movement as I had read in the media in 1960s.) Through
    her were several women organisations founded: Ntional Women Politicical Caucus (1971), Women’s Action Alliance (1972). She founded “Ms Magazine” — thanks to Dr. Friedman’s “Feminist Mystique” . Through Steinem and other feminist leaders, many American women have come into full realisation that women — unbeknowst to themselves as well as to their maternal acnestors — have been victimised of cruel hoaxes, swindling, domestic violence, sexual abuse. Until Gloria Steinem’s Feminist Movement in 1962, women had been in the dark for centuries, not knowing their rights to object to being vcitimised. There are plenty of skeleton stories in the closet never revealed by the humiliated maternal ancestors. Through Steinem, today’s women are no longer silent and would say say, “Halt!” to a man who attempts to cyberbully or hurt her. (Off on a tangent for a moment, I do not see many divorces among middle class women before 1960s. Nowadyas if a husband cyberbullies or humilates her, she would in no time flat out file a lawsuit for a divorce instead of suffering meekly to her hsuband’s traits and
    say foolishly, “I survive.”

    Jean Boutcher

  16. Julie Rems-Smario June 13, 2007


    Julie Rems-Smario

  17. Cousin Vinny June 13, 2007

    What’s wrong in using the term, ‘victim’, or its equivalent ASL sign? You still need to use it in labeling someone who just underwent a traumatic event. It also impresses upon the person that he/she has undergone a traumatic event, and that decisive, corrective, and healing measures should be immediately undertaken. Sugar-coating the situation with soothing and/or misleading words should be avoided immediately such an event, yes?

    I do agree with you that this jargon should be dropped in lieu of a more descriptive statement, when the person is now far removed from the traumatic event in question, or that event happened quite some time ago. Hey, I could be mistaken; The only counseling I’ve ever undertaken was peer-based counseling.

  18. Brian Berlinski June 13, 2007

    Terrific vlog, Candace, about your analysis of the word “victim” and the sign we use to represent that word/concept. Interesting to note that in Domestic Violence / Sexual Assault (DV/SA) field, the word “survivor” is preferred because it is a strength-based concept that revolves around the experience of having survived through something traumatic.

    However in the legal and law enforcement system, the use of the word “victim” is pervasive. In criminal proceedings they want the jury to know that a crime has been committed. In their eyes, it is a call to justice, it draws attention to the fact that a person was the target of the crime.

    Even so, DV/SA advocates are trained to use the word survivor, or most importantly, whatever term the survivor is most comfortable using to describe herself.

  19. ASC June 13, 2007

    I agree that some interpreters do play a role in pressuring Deaf people to come up with “equivalent” signs for English words. I’m sure many of us have experienced having an interpreter ask us what the sign is for such-and-such word, 2 minutes before a presentation starts or even in the middle of a meeting! I don’t think this is very respectful of our language.

    Mishkazena, White Ghost, Diane, and Bob Rourke-
    True, some people do prefer the word “survivor” over “victim”. However, there are other people dislike the word ³survivor² for the same reasons that they dislike the word “victim”. Both words suggest that the person¹s identity is defined by their traumatic experience, that they are always identified as a victim or survivor. It may work better to say ³people who survivedŠ² instead of ³survivor². This takes away from the labeling of people and recognizes that everyone has different identities and experiences and not one thing defines us all the time.

    Every language is complicated and has many layers of meaning. Words and signs carry history with them and this includes prejudices and biases. I don’t really think that many words are completely neutral. It depends on who is using the word and the context in which the word is being used.

    For example, think about the word “girls”. If a male lawyer calls a group of female colleagues “girls”, they will likely be insulted and interpret his use of the word as condescending and lacking respect. If a teacher addresses her elementary-age female students as “girls”, that is in a completely different context and carries a different meaning, one is less likely to be interpreted in a negative way.

    Deaf Farmer, drmzz, John Krueger, Katherine-
    Exactly, focus on the person first, then describe the experience. More empowering this way.

    I want to tell you that I admire your dedication to improving your ASL in your vlogs. I can see a big difference between your first vlog and your most reason one. I am impressed with your attitude and respect for ASL. Sometimes we do want to borrow English words, but like Ella said, it’s important that we also examine and get serious about how to discuss profession or academic issues in ASL.

    You are right about the V sign also meaning “virgin” in some areas. If I really must use the word “victim”, I’d prefer to spell it. It’s a short word and not hard to spell anyway.

    Thanks for the history lesson about the politics of victimization and feminism!

    Julie Rems-Smario-
    Thank you!

    Cousin Vinny-
    Must we really label people victims? I would think that people who have had traumatic things happen to them will already recognize this and don’t need to be labeled with a word to wake them up to the seriousness of their situation, as you suggest. I say, instead of starting with such a negative, disempowering word, and then removing that word later on (and when would you do that anyway?), why not be consistent and just say “people who have lost their homes in the hurricane…” or “people who were abused as children…” etc.?

    Brian Berlinski-
    You are right, the legal system loves the word “victim”. It does evoke a lot of emotion and sympathy and probably does help win some cases.

  20. B.A.D. June 13, 2007

    There are many ways we are victims, doesn’t it depend on the “situation” itself before we sign “V” to the neck? For example, a person FIRST time experiences physcial abuse, never having acknowledge of anything (wordings or what to do), and when a counselor/or interpreter sign “V” to the neck (“victim”) this can cause HEAVINESS to the person, YET it could also make them feel, “I refused to be a victim”…then we turn and explain you are survivor ….Survivor is like hero (to those that leave the situation – becomes a hero for doing so).
    Another thing, if we sign “V” to the neck, if the deaf person does NOT like it (which I can understand) then finger spelling is the next option. I do NOT like “V” as in neutral because while we are victims how are we neutral? Maybe you can help?
    Like If I get HURT (beatened) and you sign to me “V” as in neutral,to be honest – I will feel the situation is neutral. I don’t know who invented “V” as in netural and WHY?
    Any feedback would be greatly appreciated. Just learning.

  21. Jessica June 13, 2007

    Come to think of it, I don’t recall much use of the word ‘victim’ when reading about catastrophes and the like. I could be wrong.

    Anyway, quite some food for thought. From what I have learned, victim was one level changing to the next level, survivor. I would see some people say, “still in the victimized attitude” or something to that effect.

    Thanks for sharing some insights with us.

  22. deafk June 13, 2007

    ah, better leave this word to the spelling alone. We can just describe the experience instead. If insist the specific word, then s-p-e-l-l!

    thanks for clarifying this. It is a *gem* thought!


  23. C June 13, 2007

    Using Victim would depend on situation and time. You’re right older deaf don’t use that word. At least my parents didn’t. I rarely use it unless it’s in the present such as “Person is victim of bullying”. I do remember many older deaf use the word survivor. I think survivor is a better word and again, that depends on what the situation is. Domestic violence survivors do use that word, from what I’ve seen. Same with those who were rape, some would say “I’m a rape survivor”. Never see anyone say I’m a rape victim. That does not mean people don’t use it. perhaps if we canvass those former victims and see how they like to label themselves. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more than one label that is preferable.

  24. Cy June 14, 2007


    I understand the concept behind utilizing the word, “victim,” to which a person may attach to and being permanently identified as one to which the reality is contrary.

    However, you were about to move on to the sign for victim before you went back to the word, victim, to which you closed your vlog without getting back to the sign for the word. So, WHAT sign would you recommend if an interpreter asks for the sign? I know many interpreters prefer to sign than fingerspell as it is their weakest area, so they would ask for the sign for victim. I’ve never liked the sign for victim – not quite attractive and harsh. I think fingerspelling is the best way to go. Sorry, interpreters.

  25. ASC June 14, 2007

    Like I said over at your blog, there aren’t many words/signs that are completely neutral. I agree, the word “victim” is not completely neutral in the first place. It’s almost like a trap, if we are offered the choice of the “stuck” sign (V on neck) or the V waving back and forth (supposedly neutral), we are faced with choosing the less offensive sign, but that still doesn’t make it right. There is always the spelling option, like deafk and others mentioned, and that should be one of the choices.

    Yes, I’d be curious to know how people who have been labeled victims feel about this and what sign/word they prefer.

    I never intended to suggest a sign for “victim”. In my opinion, it’s not such a great English word in the first place, and the signs that have been used for it are not so great either. If the word must be used, I agree with you that fingerspelling is the best option, whether or not interpreters like it. I closed my vlog with a statement about how ASL expresses the concept of “victim” just fine, by describing the person’s experience, rather than labeling the person. I also think the ASL way can be more personal and meaningful, than simply using a broad word like “victim”.

  26. Betty June 14, 2007

    I have been watched your signed. I not believe Victim is negative, My opinion not label. Victim is casual pain,etc issues. not only rape but many various have signed. for example dicctionary off words victim.

    Please your feedback video. Please

    thank you very much, I will report video.

    see you soon.

  27. B.A.D. June 14, 2007

    I second Betty – Victim is NOT negative.

  28. Katie June 14, 2007

    BAD and Betty
    The link may help you understand why the term victim is negative. More and more people go with the term survivor. You may want to read more articles about how people can become victimized by victim stereotypes. I agree with Candace and others that it is better to describe people’s traumatic experiences than to label them victims.

  29. Betty June 15, 2007

    I am experience workshop for victim support. this is mean casual pain and various differetn , I am not reject katie. I felt victim, not serious negative , words this happened good circustances or bad circustances. also groups study psychology how are feeling about victim? meanins this casual serious situation changes issues bad or good, depend person are strong or weak.


  30. Katie June 15, 2007

    From your vlogs, I am assuming you are located in London. I don’t know how people in London view victims, but I know using the word victim does have negative implications here in America. Can you provide literature that supports that the term victim can mean the person is strong or anything positive? I don’t believe there is anything in America.

  31. Crystal July 23, 2007

    I think that was a well done Vlog- it brings up an important issue of labels/labeling in our society and whether labels define a person.

    Bravo. You gave convincing reasons why labels should NOT define a person, especially if it is attached to an experience such as trauma, sexual assault or domestic violence. Whether senior citizens, such as your grandparents, tend to reject victim labels and instead describe the event/experience, I don’t know- but I think it is a healthy option.

    I also stand by a person’s right to define themselves and their experience any way they want to- even if they identify as a victim. The road the healing is a long journey and I wouldn’t want to force -any- labels or terms.

    However, I acknowledge the comments regarding the use of the word “survivor” instead of victim; most of those who are in the DV field (hearing or Deaf) use the term “survivor” since it recognizes the strengths and tools used by a person to get through an experience and begin the journey of healing. Survivor can be a powerful word for those who have experienced violence, sexual assault, domestic violence and other traumas.


  32. Jean Boutcher July 24, 2007


    I must agree with Crystal that you have raised an important issue in regard to labelling. One of the researchers of Y-DNA Genealogy-L in which I have been actively participating for eight years had discussed the same issue. Some people use labels unthinkably or out of sheer mean-spiritedness. Take your pick.

    The said researcher was taken aback by the unreasonable and outrageous labels British historians and genealogists use. Based on findings through Y-DNA (y-chromosome of patrilineal ancestries), for his doctorate dissertation in Medieval history of British kings, he went to London’s research facilities to re-examine and to re-write the ancestries of British kings whose descendants are legion in the USA. What shocked him was that pedigrees literally label some of kings’ children “unnatural”. Asking for clarification, he was told that the Church of England regards any child unnatural, illegitimate, and bastard if born out of their mothers’ morally wrong behaviour.

    Any child does not deserve a negative label, for he does not ask to be born. Some societies are unbelievably ignorant by letting themselves be influenced by the Church of England like demeaning innocent children as illegitimate and degrading their mothers for doing something unnatural to kings. What about kings themselves? That is why I like and commend Generation X people, for they have critical thinking and detect some labels as — in the researcher’s phrase — “unreasonable and outrageous!

  33. Lisa C. June 16, 2008

    I agree with you. I have seen some interpreters signing “v’ on their necks and I encouraged them to finer spell it but they continued doing it so I kept asking what it was or if I was stuck with something over and over again making them stop using it.
    I’m taking courses on counseling and psychology starting in Jan after changing my major.


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