5 Backhanded ‘Compliments’ We Need to Stop Saying to People Who’ve Experienced Sexual Violence

1. ‘You’re So Inspiring!’
Of all backhanded compliments, this one is probably the most common.
I recently participated in a protest that aims to evoke discussion about sexual violence and serve as a way of healing those who have been violated. At the protest, I met someone who said he enjoys participating in the protest because he’s always “inspired” by the bravery of those who have experienced sexual violence.
Immediately, I started panicking. I was planning on talking about my rape on the evening of the march. What if my story was too sad? Not inspiring enough? What if I make people feel bad instead of good about themselves?
Then I reminded myself that I shouldn’t be worried about that. My story is sad – I shouldn’t make it sound more happy or positive than what it is solely to help other people.
I tell my story to heal myself, not to inspire others.
As I’ve written before, people are often expected to talk about their experiences of sexual violence in order to inspire others.
This can be incredibly problematic: Not only do we dehumanize people when we reduce them to sources of “inspiration,” but we also often end up silencing those who want to tell their story but don’t feel that it’s inspiring or positive enough.
If you like being around those who have experienced sexual violence not because you want to support us, but because you want us to inspire you, please rethink your motives.
It’s one thing to be positively moved by someone’s story; it’s another to reduce them to a source of inspiration.
Our value as humans should not depend on how inspiring we are.
Value me on the days I conquer the world, but value me on the days I can’t get out of bed, too. Value me when my story makes you feel positive and comforted, but also when it shakes you to your core and reminds you that the world can be a really cruel place.
Value us not because we inspire you, but because we’re human.
2. ‘You’re Not a Victim – You’re a Survivor!’
I’ve written about labels before. While I focused then on the queer community, some of those ideas apply to nearly all marginalized groups: Self-identification is a powerful and necessary tool in healing and fighting oppression.
And this applies to people who have been sexually assaulted, too: Choosing to label ourselves and our experiences in a certain way can be really empowering.
Some people who have experienced sexual violence use the term “survivor” – and many sexual violence organizations opt to use this term, too, which is why so many well-meaning people use it.
And for many people, it feels empowering to use the term “survivor.” It reminds them that they have overcome a difficult experience.
In many ways, using the term “survivor” to describe those who have experienced sexual violence is powerful and beautiful. But it’s important to remember that some people don’t identify with the term – and it’s crucial we don’t impose that label on them.
I personally understand the appeal of the term “survivor,” but I’ve never identified with the term. On the other hand, I don’t mind using the term “victim” because I was, indeed, the victim of a horrific crime. I’m not ashamed of the fact that a crime was committed against me, simply because it wasn’t my fault.
So when people inadvertently demonize the term “victim,” it makes me – and many others – feel really uncomfortable. It feels like we’re having a label taken away from us, and another label imposed on us.

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