I am a survivor. That is what I always call myself. I am not a victim of sexual assault. I am a survivor.
One of the titles for the many talks I’ve given over the years about my sexual assault is “From Victim to Victor: Finding Healing and Strength in the Face of Violence.” In it, I address the so called “victim mentality” and make it clear that naming your pain and claiming your story does not make you a victim. Instead, it empowers you to move from a point of brokenness toward healing by taking control of your narrative.
Rather than viewing what happened to you as a source of vulnerability, survivors of sexual assault — and by extension any sort of sexual harassment — are able to find power by refusing to be shamed by what was done to them. Courage comes by boldly saying, “Yes, this happened to me, but it does not define me. Instead, I am going to define it for what it is — an act of aggression, an act of belittlement, an act of violence, and it is the fault of the perpetrator”
Survivors gain strength by claiming their own agency. By refusing to cower in the shadows, as if they were responsible for what someone did to them, survivors are able to reframe what society has historically defined as a source of weakness because it happened to them, as a source of strength because they were able to overcome it.
FInding your voice gives you power. It moves you from being a victim to a victor.
That is why the #metoo movement has been so important. Because women are finding strength in numbers. By feeling isolated, thinking “I’m the only one,” the sense of shame grows. But by understanding that you are not alone and that you don’t need to take it, those who have been harassed and abused have found healing, as well as energy, to deal with the consequences of what another person did to them.
In the process, survivors learn to define themselves by their internal fortitude.
One of the reasons so many women have told me their story is because they know I understand. We are part of a club that no one wants to join, but once you are a member, you know that your scars remind you that you have survived. You are tougher for having been through it.
It is for that reason that my blood boiled when I heard what Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who is currently running for the North Dakota Senate seat held by Heidi Heitkamp, said in response to the Kavanaugh hearings and the #MeToo movement.
In a recent interview in the New York Times, Cramer was asked about his thoughts about the #MeToo movement:
“Invoking his wife, daughter’s, mother and mother-in-law, Cramer said, ‘They cannot understand this movement toward victimization. They are pioneers of the prairie. These are tough people whose grandparents were tough and great-grandparents were tough.’”
I lived in North Dakota for almost 25 years and I am used to Cramer saying stupid things — from blaming school shootings on abortion, to using a misinterpretation of the Bible to try justify a cut to food stamps, to saying that Dr. Ford’s claims against Kavanaugh weren’t a big deal because the alleged actions “never went anywhere.”
However, to imply that women who speak up about their harassment and sexual assault are not tough may just be the stupidest thing I’ve heard come out of his mouth.
First of all, it implies that they should just “shut up and take it.” Be tough. Accept it.
Is that where he wants us to go as a nation? Back into the shadows where men can do whatever they want to women — rape, pillage, harass or abuse — with the woman too afraid to speak up because she won’t be seen as tough or strong?
Does he prefer those who have survived to simply sit in silence? You know, not bother others with crimes that have been committed because we wouldn’t want to appear weak. To take one on the chin for the good of the team.
Another implication of what he said is that tough women aren’t victims. Which is what women are taught to believe. If this happened to me, it must somehow be my fault. I wasn’t strong enough to fend it off.
When I was raped, I was 23 years old and I was a power weight lifter. I could bench press 175 pounds.
The only person I knew I needed to tell was my canoeing partner because she knew about my brute strength. That the power of my forward bow stroke and pry had literally pulled us out of whitewater rapids that could have killed us. She would know this didn’t happen because I was weak. I needed that assurance. That I was tough even though I had been raped.
Cramer’s opponent, Heidi Heitkamp, in the same article, first said that her mother was a #metoo survivor and went on to say, “It did not make my mom less strong that she was a victim. She got stronger and she made us strong. And to suggest that this movement doesn’t make women strong and stronger is really unfortunate.”
Cramer’s implication that this doesn’t happen to tough women is beyond insulting and ignorant. It is appalling.
Finally, he has no concept the amount of strength it takes to talk about what you went through when someone assaults you.
I watched Dr. Christine Blasey Ford with amazement and awe. I could not believe her courage and strength. I know how much it takes out of me after recounting my story, and I’ve been doing it for nearly 30 years.
To do it in that setting, with the whole world watching? That woman is the definition of toughness. She didn’t come there as a victim. She wanted to move beyond that to claim her voice as a survivor. No matter what it cost her.
Women who share what others use as a source of shame ooze strength in every pore of their being. They are survivors. They are taking control of their story.
I am deeply concerned with this backlash that folks like Cramer are trying to whip up against the #MeToo movement, with a pathetic false equivalency between the infinitely small false claims vs the actual real occurences of abuse.
Do false reports happen? Yes. Is it common? Hardly, and when it does happen, the truth inevitably gets out, usually very quickly. But instead of dealing with facts, the likes of Cramer and his ilk are seeking to make men the “real victims” as it works to keep women in the shadows, afraid to speak out, afraid to be judged. Claiming good women aren’t victims.
But here’s the deal. We are survivors. And scars make you tougher at those places where you have been ripped apart in body and soul.
We won’t be blamed anymore. We won’t be shamed anymore..
Now that we’ve found our voice, we won’t let those who question how tough we are keep us silent anymore.
Because trust me, we’re tough. We are survivors.