In the aftermath of Steubenville I think we need to have a conversation about what happens going forward for any Jane or John Doe who lives through sexual violence.
The word “victim” has been on my newsfeed more than any other, and it is a word which causes me a lot of discomfort. I don’t identify as a victim. I try not to use that word unless if I’m really trying to make an impact. I’m a survivor, and so are you.
Surviving is an important part of the healing process when it comes to sexual assault and rape. By using the word “Victim” we remove the agency of living from the dialogue.
Being a victim is about not being able to move forward. It is a word which says that this horrible thing happened to you, and now you’re always going to be in the space of victimhood. How do you get past that? What’s the language for healing?
That language comes from the word “survivor”.
Being a survivor means that you made it through. It means that you fought for your dignity, for your autonomy, and you won. Being a survivor isn’t quite a badge of honor, but it certainly is something to be proud of. You made it. You survived.
The bonus is that one can continue to survive – and that’s something you want. You don’t want to continue to be victimized. There are people who are still being victimized every day, some by their situations, some by their experiences, some by the mental health aftereffects which come with the territory.
We have to stop re-victimizing the people who have survived. We have to start helping people find their way to survivorhood – and by continuing to label people as victims we’re actually not succeeding in that goal.
What we are succeeding in is creating a space where there’s no way to move forward for survivors. Our culture has not yet figured out how to welcome the droves of survivors back into the world, to hear their stories without calling them victims. We need to start exploring new ways to handle our friends histories.
This is true for men and women in different ways. For women, they are continually subjected to the victimhood mentality of “it will happen again” – they are treated as helpless and without autonomy. Men who are assaulted are simply not given a voice. They are told that these things don’t happen to men, and that if they DID happen to men, it took away their strength and masculinity. Or they’re gay. The gender stereotypes make sharing these histories much more challenging , as the pervasive myths of “why” and “how” challenge the veracity of their pain.
Each person deserves their history, and their future.
I survived. I did it. And I’m proud of that. I shouldn’t have to quietly whisper my experiences in embarrassed or fearful tones. I should be able to tell people honestly that I survived and so can you.
Let us choose language which gives us agency in our futures. Let us not deny that there is a future for a person who was once a victim of sexual assault of any form. The statistics are too frightening for us to deny that future. Choose your words carefully to leave the door open for a future with hope, and not just a past rooted in violence.