January 01, 2009

Terminology: Victim v Survivor

The Curvature has a post up which questions why 'victim' is a dirty word, why survivor isn't. It made more sense to me than anything I've read in a long time. (Do read it.)

What is it about popular culture which makes it an offence to feel hurt? Why the hell does anyone have the right to tell another not to dwell on something that went wrong? Why is it necessary to pretend to be strong even when you're falling apart? To tell someone not to live in the past and to pull themselves together when they may clearly be unable to do so is to tell them that they are inadequate. To say that they should not 'play the victim' is effectively to say that they should take responsibility for something they may have had no control over. To tell them to simply forget the past is to ask that they reject what is in all probability an inalienable part of their experience, of themselves. Everyone uses their experiences as a benchmark by which they assess new events in their lives. Why should those who've been victimised not be allowed to do so?

Addendum (2013):

Over the years, I've become more and more uncomfortable with the insistence on the use of the word survivor. I think it's very closely linked to the expectation that those who have been victimised conform to set of socially-acceptable responses to trauma (which don't inconvenience others too much); 'getting over things', 'moving on', 'not becoming bitter'. While those are (almost unarguably) all good things, they're not necessarily things which a person who has been abused is able to do (particularly not according to socially-acceptable timetables). And not acting the part of a survivor (according to societal mandates whether or not a person who has been abused actually feels the way a survivor is expected to) is all too often held against them.

Apart from that, I also wonder at what point a person goes from being a victim to a survivor. Clearly, someone who's died is not a survivor. Is anyone who's lived automatically a survivor? To what extent does that negate from their also having been victims? Who decides when a person has been victimised has 'done enough' or 'recovered enough' to be called a survivor?

I recognise that many people who have been abused prefer the use of the term survivor, and respect that. I do understand why that is preferable to many people. It isn't what I prefer when speaking of abuse though, and it's not a term I generally use.

Written in the context of heated discussions after a rape in Mumbai was reported by the press: