When does a victim become a survivor?
Some would argue – as they have since the 1980s – that one can only “survive” a life-threatening attack or event. A hurricane, a gunshot, other look-death-in-the-face episodes.
Yet that attitude contradicts dictionary definitions, which include the following:
“to remain alive after . . . the cessation of something, or the occurrence of some event”
“to get along or remain healthy . . . in spite of some occurrence”
“to endure or live through (an affliction, adversity, misery, etc.)”
It’s clear that adversity, whatever it was, does not need to rise to the level of life-threatening for someone to be considered a survivor. A life-altering event suffices.
The recent stories on Hannah Anderson, the teenager who was kidnapped, whose mother and brother were murdered by the kidnapper – since killed himself by law enforcement – emphasize her survivor-ness. Some people question that. Yet just because, as the facts are known now, she was not threatened with death by her captor, does that make her less a survivor? Bringing her into an unfamiliar wilderness far from other people was likely to have been merely a prelude. The man had a gun. Even though she knew him – or thought she did – as her father’s friend, he could have turned on her at any time.
What about rape? It’s a life-alerting event for a victim, and when they live after it, surely they are survivors. Considering that the rate of PTSD is as high in rape survivors as in battle-experienced soldiers, people who have been raped and yet go on are among the bravest of survivors.
This is even truer where rape is endemic, as in Central African Republic, where women are often forced to carry to term the pregnancy caused by their rapists.
FGM (female genital mutilation) is another attack that – although death can occur through loss of blood, trauma, or sepsis – commonly does not kill. Yet it is a traumatic assault, and therefore is illegal in many Western countries, so much so that a UK dentist is alleged to have promised to perform FGM on two little girls only if their aunt promised to keep totally silent. Yet women who live through the assault and its resultant scar tissue, pain, and difficulty in giving birth consider themselves survivors. As they should.
Finally, if the people who worked on the second “Lord of the Rings” film can create T-shirts bearing the proud slogan “I Survived Helm’s Deep” (the arduous shooting of which was mainly done at night) and not be laughed and hooted at, then people who continue after life-altering events – events that can affect their emotional health for years and decades – have every right to name themselves survivors.