Again and again we are labelled as victims … helpless ... hopeless ... Those who need saving. Survivors of sexual violence are not victims. We are survivors. Why? Because we have not succumbed to our experiences. We are not deceased. We are alive, and living. Living a life beyond our experiences of sexual violence. When I hear the words, ‘I have helped my victim friend after she was assaulted’ I stand still. Are we really reducing our friends to victims? Those who need saving? When I think of a victim of sexual violence, I think of our lost ones. The beautiful lives that we lost at the hands of a perpetrator.
People are at different places in their lives, and I understand that. It’s a learning curve to see what the impact of language can do to someone – in reinforcing the stigma or breaking it down to reveal a new truth: brave, bold survivors who are NOT defined by their assault. Nobody chooses to be assaulted. Nobody chooses to be harassed. Nobody ‘brings it upon themselves’ as I tend to hear quite often. Sometimes I sit in shock when somebody comes to me to talk about victims. I have never personally heard a survivor refer to themselves as a victim.
A word that originally meant 'sacrificed animal' in Latin. This term may be legally relevant, but it evokes a sense of finality, that both the survivor and the impact of their assault are now behind them. When this term becomes a label that is placed upon a survivor by the people closest to them, it can irreparably damage their healing journey and permanently tie their identity to the trauma inflicted upon them by the perpetrator. When used repeatedly, the term dehumanises the violent and personal nature of the assault, and reduces their experience to a single statistic. Because we have become a victim to a crime, does that mean we are automatically labelled a ‘victim’ as if that is our sole identity. Not that we might be a person who has goals, passions, hobbies, values, joys, friends, loved ones, a life?
I am not a statistic. I am not a victim. I am a survivor.
- Mina Khoshnevisan & Camille Schloeffel