Words are just symbols. They aren't the thing or the experience, they are just the conduit to pass the thing, knowledge, experience to another person for whatever reason it needs to become a shared context.
Still, words have a power of their own. In prayers, incantations, exhortations - there's a power in the words.
I watched a bunch of words pass back and forth about a week ago. A lot of words interchanged back and forth by a couple of people I know and whole lot of people I don't (hello Facebook). I watched the words and then read them again later. It was both a conversation - where the words themselves where moving back and forth as the trains run up and down the DC Metro rail lines....as it was a dissection of the words. What did the words mean?
It started with a question about rape culture. As in, is there really one...
Not going to touch that one, not at the moment.
Instead it got me thinking about the words-symbols used to identify someone who has experienced sexual violence. Victim. Survivor.
Victim - simple word. Victim of murder. We know what happened. If you're the victim of murder someone murdered you. Victim of poisoning. Someone slipped a little Nightshade into your after-dinner drink. Weirdly enough, applying the simple word "victim" to people who have experienced sexual violence is no longer simple. It's a word used in the legal system to identify who did what to whom-or was done to whom.
I know there are people on the other side of the Sexual Violence Looking Glass who use the word victim to describe themselves. I know there are people who have experienced sexual violence who can't speak the word without an equally violent shudder of rejection. Rejecting the word.
And in comes Survivor. This is supposed to be better. It has a tribute kind of connotation to it. Respect-like...ish...sort of.
I think both words are dangerous. (As with anything dangerous, there is also an inert state. Humans suck at leaving words in an inert state.)
Victim = the person who was successfully attacked by ____________________.....
Survivor = the person who was successfully attacked by __________________......
the ellipses is/are important. They mean there's more to the story and the interpretations here get tangled in trauma, ego, blame, guilt, fear, wounds and scars. Hmmm, that sounds like fun...(sarcasm fully implied).
Time for a new word-symbol.
It may be a more brutal word. It's cold. It's practical. Target - the circles you send your arrow toward. The paper hanging out at 15 feet. And that is exactly what the girl was to the Threat who chose her for rape. S/he was a target. Joe likes to target paper silhouettes. Jane likes to target steel. Joe likes to target college age women. Jane likes to target 12 year old boys.
If we have a rape culture (and I don't like that phrase) - we have helped it along into existence by the way we symbolize it in our words.
I have more on this - more about how rape and sexual violence gets reduced down to a trickle. Right now, it's enough to just say the more trauma we feed into this maelstrom, the more trauma we create.
There's enough depth to the impact of sexual violence on the Target, there's zero need to add fuel to the fire. Target is cold, accurate, descriptive. Maybe even neutral. Maybe - a word that can hold it's inert state for more than a nanosecond.
Victim has a story superimposed on the word by it's nature. So does Survivor.The story -the words created to symbolize the event, they don't belong to anyone except the person standing alongside dear Alice on the other side of the Looking Glass. So for gods sake - let's stop feeding the story line with superimposed expectations.