I Am No Victim: Changing the Narrative Surrounding Survivors of Abuse
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
This was the question asked when I first told someone that my ex was emotionally and sexually abusive. They didn’t ask me how I was doing. Or if I needed any support. Instead, they questioned my truth because it took too long. That question didn’t ask “Why did that happen to you?” but, “Why did you allow it?” Instead of holding my abuser accountable for his own actions, they blamed me, the ‘victim’.
Let me make something clear: Whether I said something then or now, one thing remains the same— it happened.
There is no statute of limitations on the effects abuse can have on an individual. Time can heal wounds, but it can also cause an infection to fester. In that moment, everything I had feared about speaking up had come to a reality. I felt sick. Despite all it took for me to finally say something, it didn’t matter. They were a mutual friend. At whatever capacity they knew him, it somehow cancelled out the fact that he was also capable of this kind of violence. For them, it couldn’t be his fault. It had to be mine.
This type of victim blaming is what previously gave serial offenders like Harvey Weinstein and countless others the ability to fly below the radar after all these years. Despite how despicable their actions are. It reinforces the fear already instilled in those they’ve harmed by invalidating their experience. Under this cloak of protection, abusers can continue doing what they are doing— confident in the fact that they will get off scot-free. Victim-blaming protects the perpetrator, while simultaneously persecuting the victim. It never takes into account the factors that prevent people who are abused from speaking up.
It is an act of bravery to come forward and report.
But trauma can silence. It can cause someone to recede into themselves as an act of self-preservation. For survivors of abuse, silence can feel like the one thing we do have control over. Especially when we see people who have taken steps to speak up for themselves be steamrolled by the media, or left unheard. There have not been safe and open avenues made for people to report abusers with the sure knowledge that they will be addressed. So excuse me for not speaking up. I do not expect the world to protect me. This is why I chose to protect myself, in silence.
This is the culture we live in. A culture of silence that upholds the message behind hashtags like #MeToo, but will not make strides to make sure that the number of people saying “me too” decreases. Instead, we are taught to be reactive. We are told to stay quiet to avoid disruption. To walk with fear that we will be harmed, instead of proactively teaching the people who do cause harm to revere others as human beings.
We do not teach that no one is deserving of abuse.
Instead, we teach how to best avoid it. To not dress too seductively. Or, to not be a tease. Make sure we get up and leave the first time a red flag flares. But it is never that simple. If abiding by a guide of respectability really stopped rape and abuse, then many of the women you know would be exempt. Sadly, this is not the case. With the number of sexual abuse allegations that have come to light within the last few months, there is obviously something wrong with this culture. Outing truths along with abusers is a step in the right direction. But not all individuals share this privilege. In knowing that this justice system is not for us, it’s easy for silence to seem like the better option.
This is what I did for months after that relationship ended— effectively stifling myself off from any form of support I could have been provided with. All because I was made to believe that I somehow deserved the abuse. As if I had made myself a victim.
Every Black woman I know has been abused. Out of those women, how many do you believe have been able to hold their abusers accountable? None. I’ve seen it time and time again. Whether it be in my own household, or in the women I look up to. Despite the fact that the trauma we’ve experienced was by the hands of another individual, we are still the ones to blame. Victims.
Victim is what he made me when he bypassed my consent and took what he wanted.
Victim is the title my therapist gave me when I was finally able to recognize his “love” as abuse.
Victim is what I believed everyone would see as I spoke up about what had happened to me.
This is when I began to resent that word. I hated it. Though it did allow me to acknowledge the fact that I had been through a traumatic experience, it simultaneously took away my power. I felt exactly how it described me; as someone harmed by the actions of someone else, and nothing more. I had found a community of people to share my experience with, yes. But I also felt branded, damaged, and sorry for myself. The word ‘victim’ left me with an identity that didn’t feel like my own.
Everything in me wanted to move on and leave what had happened in the past. Having to recount things I wasn’t sure I could live through the first time felt like a second version of hell. I wanted to be free, and technically, I was. I had left. Moved on. Found someone who loves me the way I deserve— but still I couldn’t be at peace. This truth of mine that I was so tentative to let out felt like an open wound left not to heal, but to fester. I was still afraid.
“What were you afraid of?”
Being perceived differently. No one believing me. My abuser retaliating because I had outed him. I didn’t want mutual friends looking at me and knowing what had happened. I didn’t want their pity or judgement. I was ashamed.
“Why stay with someone like that?”
Take a look at the #WhyIStayed tag on Twitter.
“I thought I could fix him.”
“He threatened to kill himself if I didn’t stay.”
“I loved him.”
And finally, at the end of the day, I knew that despite how wrong his actions were, he was never going to be held accountable. This is the sad truth that many survivors live with.
“Maybe if you had said something, he would’ve…”
Yea, maybe. It is the year 2018, and there are currently no laws in place to reprimand or condemn emotional abuse within the United States. You can, however, file civil lawsuits against an individual for emotional distress.
Emotional abuse claims are the most difficult to prove and win. Not to mention the sexual assault and other abuses that can occur within intimate relationships. If men like R. Kelly can commit these acts against countless women and still not be held accountable, what precedent does that set for people like me? A Black woman who has suffered abuse by the hands of someone who “loved” her? It is not my job, or any person who has experienced violence, to explain why what was done was wrong. It’s a matter of accountability. Do not ask me why. Ask him.
I won’t call myself a victim.
That word does not take into account who I was and still am despite what I experienced. It doesn’t speak of the woman I am becoming. It doesn’t remind me of the strength it took to get here— openly talking about the one thing that has made me feel silenced. It didn’t help me unlearn this trauma. It did not speak of how much work I would need to do in order to recover.
I am not what happened to me. I existed before, have and will continue to do so. I am no man’s aftermath. The narrative that surrounds people who’ve been abused can be freeing, but also condemning. I do not live my life as a victim. We need to change the language we use when speaking of individuals who have gone through abuse. What he did does not make me who I am. The word ‘victim’ does not account for who I was before him, or who I am now. There is so much more to me.
Which is why I will not allow it to silence me anymore. I will not allow it to define me. Instead, I choose to persist and live in my truth.
This is my truth:
For 5 years, my ex-boyfriend emotionally and sexually abused me. I believed I deserved it.
It is a year later, and I am still going. I know I am worth so much more. I have grown. I have learned. I have persisted.
Today, I am a writer. I am an educator. I am a lover. I am a persister.
Yes, I was abused— but I am no victim.