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The SEMANTIC study is a collaboration between researchers with lived experience based at King’s College London and the survivor-led organisations Traumascapes and Little Ro. It has arisen directly from our MAPS project. The purpose of SEMANTIC is to explore the terms that people use to describe having lived experiences of violence, abuse and/or trauma, and how these terms relate to identities, relationships, contexts and healing journeys.

The terms to describe lived experience can include survivor, victim, victim-survivor, wounded or a rejection of terms altogether. Using just one term within a project can validate and express some people’s experiences (some of the time), whilst silencing, erasing and excluding others (e.g. Hansen 2020). Within MAPS, we connected to terms differently individually, collectively, across our healing journeys, and within and across communities, contexts and relationships. We felt that the terms we use shape how others perceive and relate to us, and how we perceive and understand ourselves. We also understood trauma terminology as shaped by social, cultural, historical, political and geographical contexts, both for individuals and collectives. Whilst we did not agree (or attempt to agree) on single terms, we agreed that exploring these debates and complexities is critical because issues that are unspoken can come to mimic abuse and cause harm.


This project aims to explore the terms that people use to describe their lived experience of violence, abuse, and/or trauma, and how terms relate to their identities, relationships, contexts, and healing journeys. This could result in identifying a range of terms that enables us to involve a wide range of people in our work, rather than inadvertently excluding some people or groups because they do not connect to our language.


SEMANTIC is a survivor-controlled research study. This means it is rooted in the value of first-person, experiential knowledge (Russo, 2012). In this project, the research team, participants, advisory group and artists all identify as having lived experience of trauma, abuse and/or neglect, and all explicitly draw on these experiences in their work and activism. We will be guided by the Survivors Voices Charter for Engaging Survivors and the MAPS project which developed underpinning values for survivor research.

We will conduct up to 18 semi-structured interviews with people with lived experience of violence, abuse and/or trauma to explore their personal perspectives on the terminology used to communicate that trauma. Reflexive thematic analysis will be used to help us understand patterns, meanings, connections and divergences within and across interviews. Early findings will be discussed in a focus group with interviewees to change, refine, remove and extend early findings.

Finally, an Arts Collective of artist-researchers with lived experience will produce an artistic response to the findings.

Our team

  • Angela Sweeney (King's)
  • Laura Fischer
  • Sullivan Holderbach
  • Roz Etwaria
  • Leila Zimmermann 
Project status: Ongoing

Principal Investigator


Funding Body: ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health

Amount: £23,000.00

Period: September 2023 - September 2023