By: Abrianna Morales
This article, being the first in a four-part mini-series regarding self-identification of those affected by sexual assault, provides insight to a personal story about finding one’s identity in many different mindsets. From being a victim, survivor, thriver, or activist—or being all of these things, simultaneously, support and advocacy remains consistent. Regardless of how you identify, you matter, and you have a voice. Make it heard.
I am a sexual assault victim. I am a sexual assault survivor. I am a thriver. I am an activist.
When I turned fifteen years old, I was sexually assaulted—from the moment I had recognized and began to process my assault, I was identified by myself and others as a victim. In this way, sexual assault seems to divide your life into two chapters: before, and after—this is precisely what happened to me; I remembered the girl that I was before my assault, and I mourned the loss of who I once was. I believed that I was broken, I believed that I was “less” of a person, and I longed to rid myself of the identity, “victim”; after coming forward, I felt as if there was a huge spotlight on me, everywhere that I went. For months, I believed that others thought of me as, and I thought of myself as:
“That girl, the victim.”
For months, I was quiet—I became reserved and silent about my experience with sexual assault. I was afraid of what people thought about me, I thought I was alone, and I constantly wondered: “Why me?” I tried to hide my victimhood, I tried to ignore what had happened, and I hoped it would all go away. I didn’t want to be a victim. I didn’t want to be a victim because I had been exposed to media and social influence that made me see “victim” as an undesirable identity to have—society, stigma, and shame play into this. Sexual assault victims, specifically, are exposed to victim blaming through negative stigma against sexual assault; this stigma breeds silence and shame—victims are quiet, and the vicious cycle continues.
One day, however, I realized something that completely changed my perception of victimhood.
A “victim”, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is: “one that is injured, destroyed, or sacrificed under any of various conditions.” This definition is true. My sexual assault socially injured me, destroyed me emotionally, and was a sacrifice of my original identity—in my trauma, I had lost who I was. This definition, however, fails to recognize the strength of sexual assault victims. This definition fails to recognize the immense courage, bravery, and determination of sexual assault victims that experience trauma. So, let’s expand on this definition, to make it more specific to what it really means to be a sexual assault victim.
Victim: one that is injured, destroyed, or sacrificed under any of various conditions; one that is strong, brave, and determined to heal physically, socially, and emotionally.
As you can see, adding just those thirteen words completely transforms what it means to be a victim. Victims are not weak. Victims are not pitiful. Victims are powerful. Victims are some of the most tenacious and strong individuals, to face the destruction that trauma brings into their lives. Victims are people—strong people, that are preparing to overcome and survive hardship. It is not a bad thing to be a victim. Be proud to be a victim, do not be ashamed. As a victim, you are so strong—recognizing your trauma and working to process it is the first step to recovery; victims become survivors, who can become thrivers and activists. Together, victims, survivors, thrivers, and activists are united through their experiences and in support for one another. If there is anything that we must not forget, as victims and survivors of sexual assault, it is that we are not alone.
I am a victim, and I am proud. I am a victim, and I am not ashamed. I am a victim, and I have a voice.
You do, too. Make it heard.
All articles featured on this website are written by and for survivors, sometimes with the aide of mental health or legal professionals--each survivor or professional that is consulted will be identified within the individual article, unless they request otherwise.