There is a Difference

In my last post, I mentioned being a survivor or a victim.  But I didn’t clarify the difference.  After a person experiences sexual assault, domestic abuse, or molestation, they will unconsciously classify themself as a survivor or a victim.  As long as a person considers themself to be a victim, they will live in the shadow of the traumatic event.  They will  live in fear.  They will feel worthless and ashamed. (corrected section)  A person who considers themself to be a survivor, will go on to lead a healthy happy life.  Instead of cowering in fear, they will walk with their head held high, confident and strong.  Effectively putting the past behind them.  We can’t predict who will be the target of such atrocities, but maybe we can help them learn to survive.

I knew of a young man who had been sexually assaulted to such a degree, that it took a year for his body to heal.  His spirit never did.  He committed suicide.  If I would have walked up to him and said. “When you’re better, come train with me?”  Would that have given him the courage to live?  Could he have been a survivor and not a victim?

*note*  There is important information in the commets.  Thank you.

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5 Responses to There is a Difference

  1. Georgette says:

    Sorry, must disagree with you here– “A person who considers themselves to be a victim, will forever live in the shadow of the traumatic event. They will forever live in fear. They will forever feel worthless and ashamed. ”

    I think it’s pretty bold to make predictive statements like that about people who live through the trauma of a violent crime. A person may start out considering themselves a victim and learn to see themselves as a survivor. I wish people didn’t feel the urge to categorize like this. Victims and survivors alike possess a special courage that might not immediately be visible to an outsider. We shouldn’t speculate that people react in certain ways to horrible crimes because they lack “courage.”

    I’m both a victim and a survivor of sexual assault, and I’ve spent almost twenty years volunteering as a sexual assault crisis counselor, as well as prosecuting violent crime for over ten years. One thing I’ve learned is that no one knows what another’s experience was like, even if you’ve gone through something similar. You’re right though, offering a helping hand and confidence that things will change for the better can be a good start.

    But the difficulty in getting over an assault, the length of the journey to being able to walk with one’s head high, is never the “survivor’s” fault even if they see themselves as a victim.

  2. Georgette,
    I was hoping you would weigh in on this topic, and I happily stand corrected. I value your perspective, because it allows me to broaden my perspective. Too often, I feel that this topic gets swept under the rug, so to speak. It is a difficult topic that people don’t want to talk about. I feel that these difficult topics are the ones we probably should talk about.
    “No one knows what another’s experience was like, even if you’ve gone through something similar”, I love this statement. It is so true. I’ve seen many health care workers attempt to communicate with patients by say, “I know what you are going through.” Those health care workers always hit a brick wall. I will tell a patient, “I have no idea what you are going through right now, but I want to help. What is the most important to you right now?”
    The fact that I work in emergency trauma limits my perspective. I only see them in the beginning. I don’t know how they recover or if they recover. Sometimes, like the story of the boy, I only hear the bad endings. I’m so proud of you. It must take an extraordinary person to be able to speak of an experience such as your own. The work you do as a sexual assault councelor is important. I may have a part in saving their life, however I realize that there is more to living than a beating heart. It’s comforting for me to know that there is some one on the other end who will help them learn to live again.
    I am so often at a loss for words with these people. What should I say? How can I give them comfort and hope? How can I help them to learn to actually live again? I really do want to understand better. Please help me.

  3. Georgette says:

    Oh Gosh, Jodi, as you know from my email to you, I hope I didn’t come across as strident or snippy, I was probably typing and hitting “post comment” too soon as I always do! Your intent was clearly positive and constructive and I hope you’ll forgive me being defensive.

    As a crisis counselor, I went to the ER many times to assist survivors (first thing we’re taught is to call them “survivors” not “victims” so you were exactly spot on with the distinction!) and their loved ones. I was ALWAYS impressed with the professionalism, kindness, warmth and sensitivity of the SANE nurses (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) and I am absolutely certain that your caring shines through in your interactions with survivors too. As evidenced by your comment above, regarding telling them you don’t know how they feel and wanting to know what’s most important to them… that’s it in a nutshell.

    I strongly encourage anyone who would like to be able to support a survivor of violent crime to seek out their local crisis assistance agency (some go by names like Rape Crisis, Assault Crisis, etc.. in Austin, we’ve combined the Rape Crisis with the Domestic Violence Shelter and formed SafePlace..) These groups are pretty much always eager for volunteers in a variety of contexts (crisis counseling is only one– they also may need educational presenters, companions during court hearings, answering phones or the 24 hr hotline, even volunteering teaching English or babysitting at the shelter, for example). Best of all, you get free training that enables you to best assist and support people going through this difficult time.

    But Jodi, your open mind and warm heart are the real essential. You have that already 🙂

  4. Georgette,

    I reread the post several times and found that you are correct about the victim section. It was definitive and left the impression that it was a permanent state. I rewrote that section. I hope the new wording demonstrates that it doesn’t have to be a fixed and permanent state of self perception. The section now reads, “As long as a person considers themself to be a victim, they will live in the shadow of the traumatic event. They will live in fear. They will feel worthless and ashamed.” Thank you for pointing out that misleading section.


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