"You're not a victim, you're a survivor!" Words of encouragement such as the aforementioned are extended to those who have experienced a sexual assault, as if being a survivor of something is some sort of trophy to parade around. Although some bask in the glory of self-identifying as a survivor, and more power to them for finding a way to handle their sexual assault, but some of us feel differently. Perhaps I am an outlier, a strange case of a person who wallows in victimhood, but I prefer the word ‘victim’ over ‘survivor’. The connotations surrounding ‘survivor’ are entirely too hefty for me; I did not survive anything, as my life was not in danger in the first place. The connotations and emotions surrounding the word ‘victim’ seem to fit me much better- I had a crime committed against me as a child, thus I am a victim of a crime. ‘Victim’ seems to incite ideas of a damaged individual, one who is still reeling in trauma, while ‘survivor’ implies a person who is overcoming their traumatic experience. This is exactly why I would define myself as a victim rather than a survivor; my life was not threatened, and I am still, perhaps eternally, damaged by what was committed against me.
‘Victim’ is a word that has seemed to morph into a monster over the years, two-headed with gnarly teeth. A stigma has grown around it, as demonstrated in Netflix’s Luckiest Girl Alive, when a male character who has not experienced an assault corrects his verbiage to ‘survivor’ when, at first, he uses the term ‘victim’. Everyone seems to prefer the word ‘survivor’- even the term ‘Victim’s Advocate’ has been replaced with ‘Survivor’s Advocate’. The idea behind this is nice- giving power back to those who had it stripped from them. But also, we must allow ourselves to be victims. I believe that having a sense of self-pity and a sense of victimhood is an essential part of the healing process, although it is not a state that anyone wants to stay in forever. Self-pity is not all bad; sometimes it is necessary for healing. Sometimes we need to feel bad for ourselves, and we need others to feel bad for us too. Being able to identify yourself as the victim of a crime is paramount in dealing with what has taken place. Personally, it took me until I was eleven years old to grasp the magnitude of what had taken place that one day. I did not understand that anything criminal had taken place, but understanding that a crime was committed against me and I was a victim was crucial in my understanding of the situation.
Perhaps in the future, if I am more healed and my emotional wounds are bandaged, I will feel more comfortable with the terminology of ‘survivor’ rather than ‘victim’. For now, I am associating myself with the word ‘victim’ because it does not feel right to claim the title of ‘survivor’. When I hear the word ‘survivor’, I think of those who leapt from the burning and destroyed World Trade Center on 9/11, or those who experienced school shootings and lived to tell the story, or those who were on rapidly declining planes and had to tread water for days before a ship noticed them. Ascribing ‘survivor’ to being molested does not seem to fit; it seems a title too prestigious for this crime that was committed. This is not to say that cases of sexual assault can not also be near-death experiences; for some people, they certainly are near-death experiences, based on the circumstances surrounding the situation. In my personal case, in which my assault was at the hands of a family member that I knew, that I had been around before, that did not physically or verbally accost me in order to commit his crime, ‘survivor’ does not make sense to me. ‘Victim’ makes much more sense. My sexual assault is not the type you see often in movies- it was not a crying, screaming girl who begged and plead. It was a young child, so confused and unaware of what was happening, so much so that it did not take any force for anything to happen. It is tough to grapple with, and it is hard to not blame yourself for things such as this- my assaulter behaved gently with me, although the crime at hand is inherently violent and disturbing. Since it was not a situation in which I was beaten, bruised and bloody, or where I was threatened with weaponry, the term ‘survivor’ does not feel fitting.
I can try to describe myself as a survivor, but it feels like I am trying to mold myself into something I am not. It feels like a cliche, like what you’d expect someone in the movies to say, or what you’d expect a motivational speaker to say about themselves. Maybe I did not even survive the assault- it seems that everyday I relive the event, and I am only living, not thriving. My physical being survived, but mentally and emotionally, I was forever stunted and ruined by that event. ‘Victim’ is not debatable for me; I was a victim of a crime- yet, ‘survivor’ as a descriptor of myself is debatable because, did I really survive that?