Victims surviving labels

There is an accepted definition of the term “victim”, which includes “someone who has come to feel helpless and passive in the face of misfortune or ill-treatment”. Women who have been raped are often called “rape victims”.

From my own experience, and that of many other women, I was not just a “victim”. I may have been helpless and passive physically, but mentally I fought off the attacker: I detached my heart and mind and took them to a place that no one else could reach. It was resistance.

Now, apparently, I am a “survivor”. On the days when I cannot get out of bed as a result of the impact of what happened to me, I don’t feel that at all. True enough, it happened and I lived. So in that sense I survived.

Wars begin and end, in history all is done and dusted. Only for people it isn’t. The war carries on: in their minds, in their behaviours, in their futures and in the impacts it has on others.

You cannot isolate a rape as a single event at a single point in time. It is part of a continuum.

There are contradictions all the way through, women are victims and survivors at the same time during and after assault. We are also much more than either of these terms can capture.

The words we use are critical to the way we perceive something and how they reflect and enforce a social and legal consensus about that thing. If we haven’t an adequate language for those affected by rape, then how can we expect to change the way society deals with it?

If only I was Noam Chomsky, perhaps I could sort this out. But I’m not. Finding words which work won’t resolve my issues over the rape. But it’ll make it easier to process: it’ll make it easier to get other people to understand. If not a victim nor a survivor, then what?

A wider discussion of these themes can be found in apost I’ve written for Everyday Victim Blaming. A site which, by the way, I cannot recommend too highly.

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