**Trigger warning: As with any discussion of sexual assault, this material may be triggering for some people. I’ve included a list of resources at the end of this post that you should feel free to contact if this post has brought up anything for you… or for any reason.**
I think self-identifying is one of the most fundamentally important things in this world. To be given the space to name yourself and to name your experience is beyond liberating. So that’s what I’m about to do.
I want to clarify that I fully respect the use of the term survivor, and think that for many people it can be incredibly empowering. I’m also not encouraging anyone to identify the way that I do… I’m just opening up the discussion. Victims and survivors both deserve support and respect, but not everyone needs the same kinds of support.
If in speaking with someone against whom sexual violence has been perpetrated, they identify themselves as a survivor, I absolutely will do the same for them. That is an identity that they choose for themselves, for a variety of complex reasons. For me, it’s not empowering, or productive to my recovery process.
I’m not going to get into the details of my experiences, but I have had sexual violence perpetrated against me in the past.
I’m not ashamed of this: It is a fundamental part of who I am and what my experience has been.
But I’m not a survivor. This experience is still very much a part of my life. When we consider that victims of sexual violence suffer much higher rates of suicide and drug and alcohol abuse, I don’t feel comfortable defining myself as a survivor. While I don’t currently feel at risk of those things, I know that the way I respond to my trauma has changed vastly across time and space and that it’s a continual process.
To me, the term survivor implies that it is over. That I have survived this experience, that it is past tense. But this process is not over, not by a long shot. And every time I pretend it is, even by doing something as simple as identifying myself with other people’s words, I set myself back a little bit in my journey.
The word “victim” feels right to me. It begins to portray the pain I have felt and that I feel. It portrays the helplessness, the fact that all of this was 100% outside of my control. I am not a helpless person, not a person to be overtaken by circumstances outside of my control… but in this situation I was helpless; my body was taken out of my control.
I am a victim of sexual violence. Someone violated me. I have been violated. I am violated.
This is not all of whom I am. It is not my identity, it is simply a part of my identity. I am Tori. I just also happen to be a victim of sexual violence.
I ask that we all have nuanced conversations about these issues… For some people, including myself, find their identity in those nuances.
Office of Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse (SARA): (650)725-9129
YWCA Sexual Assault Center: (650)725-9955 [24-hour hotline]