I am a victim. I am a survivor. I was raped.

Lily Mae Lazarus, Managing Editor

Reflecting on the sexual assault survivor, victim phenomenon. (Maggie Pasterz)

I am a victim. I am a survivor. I am not different, or better, for owning the duality of my identity as someone who was sexually assaulted. 

All those who are raped are victims. That does not make them any less of survivors, but neglecting the fact they are victims is erasure of the initial crime. When someone is raped, they are not just victimized by the doer. They are failed and retraumatized by their community and the institutions meant to protect them. The “who did it” becomes less important when justice is seldom an option. 

Before I was a survivor, I was a victim. I became a victim when I was 14, then again only a year later. Like the 93% of other teenage girls, I knew my rapist. I never received justice, nor was I provided that opportunity. The exact who, what, when, where and how are not important.

When I was raped, I became the victim of the most heinous kind of theft. Someone took a part of me, my property, my body, without my consent. I was never given back what was stolen from me. I simply learned to live without it, compensating for this unimaginable loss in shame and agony. 

I am not only a rape victim, but also the victim of an unjust system where only 25 out of 1,000 rapists end up in prison. Like so many other women, my story was discredited and tossed aside with troubling nonchalance. There was no rape kit, no evidence, no investigation, no trial and no conviction. My voice was taken by those meant to protect me, and for that I am angry.

I often find myself battling my dual identity. In my eyes, the victim is my younger self, struggling to keep going while her peers overlooked her silent agony. I see the youthful light inside of her extinguished. She is broken; her body was violated before she had a chance to understand it. She is still me, and I am still her.

In owning this victimhood, I take back the voice that was stolen from me. I reject the silence that is expected of me from my rapist and the institutions protecting him. I reclaim the power of my body and my identity in recognizing the most damning part of myself, the side of me left unseen. I come forward and speak my truth, better late than never. I am not alone as a rape victim, and in admitting this sad reality I hope other women abandon our shared solitude. There is strength in numbers. 

I see the survivor in the woman I am today. A woman who learned to live and succeed after struggle. She is a confident member of her community who does not hesitate to speak her mind. She is also bitter, untrusting and nonetheless traumatized. But, she recognizes this fragility and works to help others on her path to self reclamation. She faked it until she made it. 

Surviving does not have to be glamorous. Surviving is waking up in the morning, maybe getting out of bed and remembering to brush my teeth. On a good day, surviving is going through the motions without giving up. On a great day, surviving is feeling an inch more powerful and whole. Even on my best days, these are all accomplishments of which I am proud.

I survived being raped; I survived being retraumatized by the system meant to bring me justice; and I continue to survive with the lasting memories of my assault. Without my victimhood, I would not be the survivor I am today. 

I am not the perfect victim and survivor, nor do I think such a thing exists. We do the best we can with what we are given. I still live with the shame I felt six years ago. I still feel responsible for what my rapist did to me. I am ashamed because I was taught to feel that way. 

I was also taught to stay silent. In a culture where the “he said” seems to matter more than the “she said,” I could not come forward. Rape was and remains a dirty word, even coming from a victim’s mouth. My silence is where I carry my guilt because I couldn’t even practice what I now preach. 

Today, I come forward to hold perpetrators and institutions accountable. I speak for those who cannot do so safely or are not ready. I scream from the top of my lungs, “Believe women.” I am a victim; I am a survivor; I was raped. I am not alone.