Don’t call me a victim

Guest column by Danielle Shorr, junior creative writing major

My first semester at Chapman, I sat in my literature class pulling at my cuticles underneath the desk as the professor explained the rape scene in T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland.” Two months prior, I had been sexually assaulted and now, sitting in class during one of the first weeks, I panicked silently in my seat. This was before I had taken the time to acknowledge the reality of what I had been through – a traumatic event that I had assured myself I’d get over quickly. But here I was, two months later, with the fragmented pieces of what happened taunting me in an English class.

Danielle Shorr, junior creative writing major

Danielle Shorr, junior creative writing major

Two years later, I am speaking at Chapman’s annual Take Back The Night event, reading a poem titled “For the Girl Who Doesn’t Know How to Say No.” It didn’t happen overnight, this transformation. My reclamation of my experiences developed slowly, in the non-linear way that healing often arrives. It took two years, starting with a Google search to find a therapist, and then a session in the office of a stranger in which the confession poured out of my clenched fists. Today, I am not the same girl who felt powerless and weak, but someone who knows her own strength.

Even though I feel lucky to be at the place I’ve worked so hard to get to, I know that there’s so much work left to be done. Not for me, but for the women (and men) who will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. The comments made by Chief of Police Tom Kisela about the vulnerability of drunk women at the hands of “frat boys” and his later lack of apology about his statements is further proof that we’re completely missing the point.

It has nothing to do with alcohol. Rape has nothing to do with alcohol. I wasn’t drunk. He wasn’t drunk. It’s not a matter of “boys will be boys” and women needing to protect themselves. It’s a matter of being so focused on teaching self-defense, that we forget whom we’re protecting ourselves against. There’s a reason I walk from campus to the law school parking lot with my keys peeking through my knuckles. Last week a man followed me around CVS for the entirety of my trip. The week before, a man followed me to my parked car. I lose count of how many times I am whistled at.

I was raised to know my way around a can of pepper spray, like the glitter-covered one that now hangs from my purse. I was taught to lock my doors as soon as I was inside, keep my drink close and not drink too much “because nothing good ever happens when a girl drinks too much and there are men around.” We have programs and prevention, but we still don’t talk enough about it.

And even though I know I am strong, I am also scared. In Orange, in Los Angeles … it doesn’t matter where I am, I know that somewhere close by, a man is waiting to use his masculinity as a weapon. This isn’t about defending oneself. It never has been. Because what if I let him in? Invited him over? Let him kiss me on the way out? Does it matter if he knew my family? Does being a woman in this world mean we must always be prepared to fight a war at any time?

I am speaking out for the next person who will be called a victim, who when called that, will feel like a fatality. I want him or her to know that after the destruction comes survival. This is a result of all of the times I have been worn down only to grow back harsher. This is for the girl who left her apartment today with a sharpened pencil in between her fist. For the one who still can’t say the reality out loud. For the one who lost his or her voice in his heaviness.

Please don’t call me a victim. I am not a victim – I didn’t lose. Instead, call me a survivor. It took me more than two years to find the power to take back that title. I am not a casualty – I am still here.

Read another guest column about sexual assault at Chapman here.

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