Something that frustrates me about some of the third wave rhetoric around rape is the refusal to accept that ‘victim’ is a perfectly apt, accurate word, and when stripped of patriarchal connotations (like victims LET things happen to them or even ASK for them—this is only for female victims of rape, of course), victim is the only word used for raped women that actually directs some attention to the VICTIMIZER.
The word survivor does not make sense for every woman who was raped. I was raped twice and neither time did I feel like my life was in danger. Neither time, when a stranger took off my clothes and raped me while I was unconscious, or when my ex disregarded my withdrawal of consent, did I feel glad that I had SURVIVED. Because not surviving wasn’t a tangible risk in either case. Saying I’m not a victim I’m a SURVIVOR actually deals quite a few blows to feminism.
-raped women feel revictimized by the negative connotations of ‘victim’ despite how sensible the term is
-forces raped women to compare her actions as a self-identified victim to those of a survivor, creates two ways of perceiving raped women (with victim being negative and survivor being positive)
-women are encouraged to drop the label of victim, which implies a crime was willfully done against her, to survivor, which implies ‘yeah you got raped, but at least you’re alive’. Takes the focus away from the perpetrator. Suggests raped woman should be grateful her rape was only a MERE RAPE and not a rape/murder
-what about the women who don’t survive? Victim is okay for them? Did they survive the rape but not the murder, or is it okay to call raped women victims only when they die?
-what about the women who were raped, did not die at the hands of the rapists, but later go on to commit suicide? Survivor is not exactly a very fucking nice way of putting that, is it?
Patriarchy has a lot of ways of making women hate the words used to describe us. Sometimes we try to reclaim them and sometimes we swap them out. I understand why. I did survive multiple rapes—I was raped and I’m alive. But men made me a victim (against my will, as everyone should but doesn’t infer from the word). Their lack of desire to see me dead was why I survived—I don’t thank them for that, nor do I celebrate that my rapes did not end in my death. I’m a rape victim and so-far survivor of male violence. I won’t smile and be thankful. I won’t soften the phrasing or redirect the blame.
Victim doesn’t mean you invited danger. Victim doesn’t mean you deserved it or had it coming or should have expected it. Victim doesn’t mean you put yourself in harm’s way, it doesn’t mean you were bad or foolish or too trusting or too quiet or too scared. These are all rape myths. It means someone felt so entitled to your body that they took your rights from you. It means egregious harm was done you based SOLELY on the decision-making of a rapist. Being a victim means it wasn’t your fault.
So let’s not reclaim slut and call would-be rapists slut-shamers. Let’s not call raped women ‘sluts’ against their will. Because when rapists and other men hear ‘slut-shame’ they don’t think “a man was a misogynist pig to a woman whose likelihood of being raped is about 1in4.” They think “A slut got rightfully called out on/abused for her sluttiness,”
When the term victim is verboten yet slut draped widely over every woman, we have lost a battle of language. We have shifted from naming the agent—the shamers, the victimizers, the GUILTY—because they are violent and scary and for some reason women are still supposed to marry and fuck them.
Women are not sluts, victims are not stupid, and surviving rape puts the onus on the raped women. Rapists make victims. Don’t make it so difficult to use such important framing.