Seven years ago, I was the victim/survivor of sexual assault.
I’ve put a lot of thought into the difference between “victim” and “survivor”. Most people and organizations seem to agree that “survivor” is the better choice – it sounds much more positive and powerful than “victim”. However, I came across a couple of articles (here and here) that talk about how both words are equally valid, and I tend to agree.
“Survivor” implies that I’ve “gotten over it”, that I’ve put it behind me and moved on with my life. It makes it seem that I am healed, as if the experience of rape is a wound that can be bandaged. I don’t deny that I’ve done plenty of healing. I attended a wonderful support group at the Sexual Assault Center of Edmonton that helped me process what happened. I saw a counselor who specialized in sexual assault victims, and her guidance led me out of a very dark place. In this regard, it seems I am a survivor.
But even now, seven years later, I sometimes still go back to that dark place. Sometimes it still feels like it happens yesterday – my skin crawls and I feel sharp pains in my feet like I’m still walking over all that broken glass. Some days I feel sad and heavy and afraid, and I don’t feel like a survivor. I don’t feel strong. I want to cry and hurt myself and be comforted. So if I sometimes feel like a victim, does that make me weak?
In elevating those who “move forward,” the victim/survivor dichotomy implicitly condemns those who do not, reaffirming myths about what constitutes a good versus bad survivor, and legitimizing certain forms of survivorship over others. To be a (strong) survivor is to carry that weight — figuratively, and literally. To be a (weak) victim is to crumble, “stay” silent, engage in self-harm.
-Dana Bolger, ‘Hurry Up & Heal‘
I’ve fallen into this trap before – when I start to feel like a victim again, I tell myself to “just get over it – it happened so long ago”. I put a timeline on my own healing. I devalue my own feelings and reactions, tell myself to just “let it go” and move on. I’m slowly but surely learning not to do that. I’m learning to ask for help, to tell people how I feel, and to accept that I am both a victim and a survivor. Sometimes I am strong, sometimes I’m scared. My life is never going to be the way it was, but that’s okay. All I can do is keep moving forward.
If you or someone you know has experienced a sexual assault or is in a crisis situation, please call 911 or your local emergency number.