The conversation started off well. We were two young, passionate women discussing social injustice and inequality.
I remember being engaged by the young woman in front of me—I probably had a slight crush on her, to be honest. And then….
“I just love rape victims, you know? I feel like I’m called to help victims heal.”
The heat of unbridled anger boiled in my stomach, and I felt my eyes narrow into a glare. I wanted to stop her, to tell her to shut up before she dug herself into a deeper hole, but she just kept talking.
I listened for as long as I could until I couldn’t take it anymore.
“I was raped when I was 16.”
The words forced themselves from between my lips without my consent—rape words, quite fitting for a rape victim.
She paused, awestruck to have met a true victim in the flesh.
“You’re…You’re a victim?”
“Uh, yeah. I guess.”
“I’m so sorry. ‘Victim’ isn’t really the word,” she said, using delicate air quotes. “’Survivor’ would be more fitting.”
I laughed very slowly at first, a deep and awkward gurgle. The gurgle slowly transformed into a cackle. She looked as though I had run a rather bulky spear right into the center of her gut.
“I should have said survivor, right?” she said, looking fearfully into my manic eyes.
I—the victim, survivor, or whatever it is that I am—had to take a second to catch my breath before I responded.
“People usually call me Becca.”
Looking back, I feel quite guilty about my smartass response. My friend was sincere and genuinely meant well. She really did love rape victims. And who can blame her—almost all of us love a rape victim or two.
According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, about 17.7 million American women and 2.78 million American men have been raped. That’s 1 in 6 for women and 1 in 33 for men. If you consider the fact that these numbers don’t even include those who never reported (including myself, so you can add one more to that 17.7 million), victimssurvivorsorwhatever make up a significant portion of the population.
No wonder my friend loved us so much. Some of us are probably dicks, but I imagine the majority of us are pretty cool.
But though she had good intentions, there’s a reason I found her categories of victim and survivor to be incorrect and offensive.
I don’t want to be labeled as a victim or a survivor, which is why I avoid telling most people that I have been raped. Neither title is accurate nor particularly flattering.
At one point in time I was a “victim,” but I’m not anymore. I was beyond victim status as soon as my vagina stopped hurting.
“Survivor” makes me feel as though I am expected to merely survive, never thrive. It also makes me feel guilty because so many other women who have been raped didn’t get to survive. “Survivor’s guilt” is what we call this in counseling, and unlike a lot of counseling gobbledygook, this term is not complete bullshit. Some of us didn’t get to survive and some of us did, but none of us were able to select the outcome. We were all dealt a random rape card.
After the incident with the lover-of-raped-people, I called and vented to a fellow victimsurvivororwhatever. Luckily, my friend has a fantastic sense of humor. She knows how to make me feel human instead of just like a raped person. She tried to help me think of a better word than “victim” and “survivor” that included aspects of both: surictim, vivior, timivor, etc. Eventually, we stumbled upon “victor,” which, all jokes aside, was particularly fitting.
When it boils right down to it, people who have been raped aren’t really survivors or victims. We are victors.
I will be the first to admit that my rape was not the greatest. It was pretty horrible and uncomfortable, but I promise that my life is not horrible and uncomfortable as a result. Yes, the event has influenced much of my life and I was severely traumatized for some time. Yes, sometimes it still bothers me. But for the most part, I have a pretty great life.
It has been 7 years since I was raped, and I have had the opportunity to become a therapist and work with many amazing young victors of all genders. I have found that so many of them have been told that they are maladjusted victims who should aspire to simply survive. I thought the same thing at one point in my life.
It doesn’t help that the media often portrays us as afraid, depressed, maladjusted, or murderous sociopaths. (I’m looking at you, LMN™.) The general population has insisted upon draping people who have been raped with preconceived ideas of what a “real” rape victimsurvivorwhatever is. We have to be sad for a while, and then we’re allowed to survive. That’s it.
The worst part about it: We’ve been defined as “victims” or “survivors” without anyone even asking for our consent.
We victimsurvivorwhatevers might be afraid sometimes, but we have also conquered a fear that you may never feel. We may be maladjusted, but we’ve had to adjust to a title we never wanted in the first place. We might be depressed, but sometimes it’s just because everyone thinks we ought to be. We might be silent, but it’s usually because few will genuinely listen to us without assuming all sorts of things about our experiences. We want to talk about our experience and we want justice, but we don’t want it under the title of “victim” or “survivor.” We want it under a badass title that fully envelops who we truly are.
When I was 16, my rapist made me believe that I was his victim who would never do more than merely survive. At 23, society continues to shove me into the same categories. Within those seven years, though, I have realized that these labels don’t describe me or the many others I know who have lived through similar situations.
So please don’t call us “victims” or “survivors.” We much prefer “victor.”
Or our names. Those work, too.
Becca Denae is a graduate student studying mental health counseling. Providing therapy to teens and holding her two precious guinea pigs are her favorite pastimes. She prefers bottom shelf vodka, which should clue most readers in on her personality type.