please don’t call me a survivor

content warning: SEXUAL ASSAULT/RAPE 

by amanda swan

I flinch when I hear the word survivor. My tummy curls in, and so do my toes.

survive: continue to live or exist

late Middle English: from Old French sourvivre, from Latin supervivere, from super- ‘in addition’ + vivere ‘live’.

I got raped when I was 18, and I didn’t continue to live. I was not a survivor of sexual assault. I was a victim of rape.

I would not say that my eighteen-year-old self even existed. I can barely remember her. And I’m not the only person so dissociated after rape they no longer feel like a person. I lost years of my life not living.

I did not survive. This happened to me. A man forcibly penetrated my anus with his penis. And I did not continue to live. I did not continue to exist. My life shrunk and my world closed in. He was the one whose life continued, uninterrupted.

Maybe I am surviving now, but I wasn’t surviving then. I was slapped with the label of survivor and simultaneously drowning.

rape: (typically of a man) force (another person) to have sexual intercourse with the offender against their will

late Middle English (originally denoting violent seizure of property, later carrying off a woman by force): from Anglo-Norman French rap (noun), raper(verb), from Latin rapere ‘seize’.

I like the word rape. It demonstrates that sexual assault has always been a matter of power. It has always been a violent seizure of life force. It has always been a crime. We don’t say theft survivors and it’s an assault victim. So why is someone who’s been raped a sexual assault survivor? Just say that I was raped. Admit the extent of what he took from me. Confess the truth of men seizing women’s bodies.

I suppose I “survived” my rapist’s assertion of power, but really I froze and underwent it. Why does this society insist on assigning me agency where I had none? I am the object of my rapist’s chosen experience, a fawn in the headlights who lacks the agency of subject.

I am not a survivor. I’m a human. It’s okay to experience rape and not feel strong when it is over. It’s okay to react from your limbic system when you have power asserted upon you—it isn’t your fault that your body is trying to survive.

If the word survivor doesn’t sit right with you, you aren’t alone. Rape is too complex to simply continue living.

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