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The Language of Rape, Victimhood, and Survival

Posted on April 18 2010 12:00 pm
Jenn escaped blue state academia for redder pastures in the South. Follow her on Twitter and read more of her work at
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I was sexually assaulted when I was thirteen years old by someone I mistakenly believed was a friend. I rarely think about it. It happened, I got through it, and I survived.

NewsReal contributor Alex Knepper believes the word “traumatic” doesn’t apply to being held down and forcibly penetrated against my will.  What’s more, he thinks I’m debasing the term “survivor” and should really stick to calling myself a victim.

“Survivor” is a term we typically employ to those who have endured the horrors of genocide, war, or famine, and managed to come out alive. Sexual assault is not a lethal act, nor is it a life-defining event, akin to suffering in Auschwitz. Feminists would like it to be a traumatic event: like Hamas, the more of their alleged constituents that sufferer, the more that they can manipulate people’s emotions — but it’s a terrible debasement of the term survivor to apply it to those who are simply victims.

I detest leftist Newspeak as much as anyone, but Knepper’s analysis is dead wrong. Survivor is a term embraced by men, women, and children who don’t want to wallow in victimhood in the aftermath of traumatic sexual abuse. (And yes, having your body physically invaded by someone who feels entitled to take whatever he wants is just that.) Survivors take responsibility for their physical and mental recovery and refuse to accept perpetual victim status.

Alex spent much of this month being pilloried by the feminist Left for a controversial column in American University’s Eagle that argued personal responsibility is the best defense against date rape. He later described the Eagle piece as “decrying the victim-based ideology of the sexual left.” On Thursday, Alex called out the president of American University for pandering to feminists in “our postmodern world of victim-chic.”

And yet, in the same piece he insists that rape survivors are debasing the language when they reject the terminology of victimhood in favor of survival. What happened to decrying victim-based ideology?

Gun blogger and sexual assault survivor Hecate offers an insightful summary of the problems with remaining invested in one’s status as a victim:

The urge to stay a victim is seductive. Our society favors victims, cosseting them and setting up well-funded groups to be their advocates. These groups depend on a steady supply of victims for their existence. Government and law enforcement officials also depend on a steady supply of victims to justify expanding their power and control over every aspect of subjects’ citizens’ lives.

Stuck victims choose to define themselves by their damage instead of working to overcome it. They can build their entire lives around being a victim. I met lots of people like that during my active process. They only associated with other victims. They went to a different support group every night of the week, groups for sexual abuse, codependency, addiction, overeating, bulimia, you name it. They worked very, very hard at not getting better.

Being a survivor means refusing to remain tethered to a traumatic experience.  It has nothing to do with the feminist racket, and everything to do with individual strength and resilience.

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