You might have figured it out by now but I love words. Language is powerful, and that’s part of the reason why I thought that Dakota Johnson’s recent comments about depression were so damaging. However, this isn’t about that.
(Even though, in short: when describing a condition nobody can see, language used becomes even more important. As a public figure with an international platform, you’re responsible for the statements you make in a whole new level, even if only describing your own experiences. If my opinions had a similar reach, I’d definitely express myself differently to what I do now. Is that fair? No, but it’s the price for that platform, which is accessible to everyone with little to no effort, including incredibly vulnerable people. The end.)
Language is what I am talking about today. I had quite an emotional conversation with someone about the concepts of victim and survivors. First of all: I know that the word ‘survivor’ is used widely among those who have experienced abuse. If this is helpful to you, you’ll never hear me saying not to do it.
However, I don’t agree with the usage of the word survivor because of it’s connotation to anyone who has experienced a traumatic event. I don’t think it’s fair to anyone to group all of us together because the situations put underneath the umbrella of a single term are too vastly different.
I can’t even imagine what it’s like to experience a natural disaster such as an earthquake or a tsunami or an event such as a car accident, and I don’t seek to belittle these experiences in any way.
However, here’s my issue: None of those events mentioned above were personal. You were just at a wrong place at a wrong time. I can’t even begin to think how traumatising it must be find yourself in a middle of a natural catastrophe but it wasn’t a personal attack. It wasn’t anybody’s fault.
In the case of rape, it very much is somebody’s fault. It didn’t have to happen. It happened because that decision was made by another person. This wasn’t an uncontrollable force of nature, a quirk of fate, a case of wrong place at a wrong time. I have changed forever because another person made a conscious decision to rape me just because he wanted to.
That’s why I use the word victim. Because I was VICTIMISED by somebody. I’m not saying that my trauma is any worse than anybody else’s but I feel that the word ‘survivor’ in the case of sexual assault takes away responsibility from the perpetrator. This wasn’t caused by forces beyond our control deep below layers of the Earth. This was the direct consequence of someone making a decision. It’s not the same thing as an accident or a natural disaster. It just isn’t.
I’m not saying that surviving isn’t a part of it all. Survival is something that you do for every single day of your life from thereafter. Still, it’s different to the literal survival you do in a case of a natural disaster or a serious illness for example.
By using the word ‘victim’, I find comfort because in my case, a lot of the abuse I experienced was mental and I was made to feel like the things happening to me were my fault. By identifying as a victim I finally step away from that gaslighting, and place the blame with who it really belongs. Him.
People don’t like that though. It doesn’t sound empowered enough. The amount of times I’ve been told, even though meaning well, that I shouldn’t call myself a victim, it ironically makes me feel like I’m being victimised again. It’s like I’m not reacting correctly. Still, I would be extremely careful about telling someone that, because I feel these things need to be decided by that person alone. That’s why if you find comfort and empowerment from the word ‘survivor’, I’ll never say you shouldn’t do it.
These two concepts don’t cancel each other out. I am a victim but I have also survived. By the grace of still being alive and not dying of sorrow, I am empowered regardless of the name I choose to give myself. However, the point is that it has to be my choice, and the choice of every victimised person out there. Victims of sexual assault struggle to be believed anyway, they shouldn’t be attacked further for using language that you don’t agree with.
They didn’t have that control back then, but they do now.