Words Matter: Target Versus Victim

Discussions about students being targeted and affected by bullying often lead to calling them “victims.”

Unfortunately, just by using this one word, bullying, victims not only must live with a lifelong stigma, but also, according to recent reports, have a greater chance of harming others.

A report last month from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed  that thousands of students who said they were bullied ended up bringing a weapon to school. In fact, 9 percent of students who reported being bullied said they would take a weapon to school, compared to fewer than 5 percent of students who were not bullied. The CDC report analyzed results of a survey completed by 15,000 high school students.

The irony of the term “victim” is that when we look at those targeted by crimes, people work very hard not to be forever defined as the “victim.” Victim implies that one has no power, and defines someone as weak and helpless.

While there are instances, certainly, in criminal activities where one is left powerless, when it comes to bullying we do a disservice to those students by defining them as “victims,” as opposed to a more neutral term such as “targets.”

Today, a Google search for content containing both the word “bullying” and “victim” returns 39 million results, while a similar search―replacing the word “victim” with “target”―returns almost half that amount.

Calling somebody a “victim” implies that they were, and perhaps still are, helpless. It’s  also important to use a word like “target” instead of “victim” because the connotation of the word “victim” has too many implications that children of any age just cannot internalize.

Let’s not raise a generation of children who see themselves as victims. Or, better yet, let’s work to stop bullying from ever happening in the first place.