No. I do not believe that the worst thing that we do defines who we are, nor do I believe that the worst thing that is done to us also defines who we are. From this place, and in discussing sexual assault, I realize that for many people their identity, and their being, becomes inseparable from the sexual assault that they have endured.
This becoming inseparable, of an act and one’s being, is noticeable in the words that people use to talk about themselves.
In the language of sexual assault, the word, “victim,” is used sparingly. Using a word that reminds a person of their being victimized, of their powerlessness, of that moment of painful reality, can be too much. For that reason, many people use the word, “survivor,” to add a sense of reclaiming power and identity, which isn’t evoked with the word, “victim.” However, in this way, “survivor,” is as limiting as the word, “victim,” because it keeps a person defined by that moment.
Yes, I believe that sexual assault needs to be discussed, publicly. I believe that those that have endured sexual assault have a right to reclaim their voices and to reclaim their bodies. I also believe, truly, that a person can be trapped in their hurt and see their whole lives as colored by one, or a pattern, of unwanted events. Addressing sexual assault is a long process that requires acknowledging what happened, and, to be truly healed from that pain, defining one’s life not by that hurt.
Being healed and being safe starts with saying, “no,” to the act itself. It continues by saying, “no,” to being defined by that act.
(originally written on August 12, 2012)