In Search of a Survivor Identity: 1

*Warning: This article addresses issues of sexual assault and domestic violence

Who am I? I am a senior here. So while I begin to introduce myself, my time here is coming to an end. I have written op-eds before, but not personal pieces. Part of the reason I chose to do this was out of selfishness and as a way of healing. The other part was to open up dialogue about being a survivor and to show that you are not alone living through this pain. I will focus on being a survivor at Swarthmore and answer questions of how to heal and find self-identity. I will talk about my own experiences as a survivor of sexual abuse, assault, and rape.

My father was the first, and most important, person to assault me. I don’t think he knows or remembers because he never thought of it as abuse. To this day, he doesn’t know why I’ve stopped talking to him (regularly). My own memories are somewhat lost because of the trauma and resulting selective memory—I also do not want to totally let go of family.

My identity as a survivor has shaped my life in various ways. For a long time, I couldn’t trust men. As a straight cis* female, I would date men who I thought were out there to hurt me or manipulate me, because the man I was supposed to trust the most was the man who lost all my trust. I have been assaulted by strangers and friends who probably did not know that they did anything wrong. I have been raped by 4 people, including a boyfriend. (Yes, rape can range from being drunk and a guy leaving you on your floor bleeding to a boyfriend pulling down your pants when you’re asleep and sticking his dick inside of you).

For a long time, I was so angry: angry at them and (some of) my friends who weren’t supportive/ blaming me, but mostly at myself for not being able to stop them, or for simply accepting that this was happening. I felt powerless. But in some ways, this powerlessness felt normal.

Let me also say that I’ve had sex with a fair number of people. I don’t regret my consensual sex life. What I do regret is my weakness in approaching this sex life. By weakness, I mean that I had sex out of vulnerability. While I do love sex, I also had it because I wanted someone out there to want me and to love my body and be into me so that I could break their hearts. It didn’t really work out that way, even if that was what I wanted. I wanted to spite men, all men, for having penises. But most of the time, I would get attached and later resent myself because they only wanted a “good fuck,” as they would admit later.

I have been called a slut, whore, hoe…whatever words come to mind when people want to diminish women. Recently, I was called “easy” by someone who I really cared about. I admit that, for a while, my sex life was unhealthy. I stopped caring about myself and my body, I didn’t respect myself, I wanted to pretend that I was confident. Really, I think I just wanted men to feel the same hurt I felt. I wanted them to know what it was like to give yourself to someone just to be broken later. Unfortunately, that didn’t always hash out the way I wanted it to, and I would still be hurt anyway. My emotions got the best of me and I would still want something to fill in the loss of my father’s love and trust. There are survivors who do the same thing, but again, survivors approach that identity in a variety of ways.

It took me until my sophomore year to identify as a survivor and finally tell a friend about my past. I should’ve known when I ran out of my ASAP workshop because one of the stories reminded me too much of one of my experiences. But I didn’t want to think that I was a survivor. I kept thinking that worse things have happened to better people and that rape only happens in dark alleys and that I wasn’t special in anyway. I didn’t want to believe that I was sexually abused or raped or assaulted ever in my life, even if I had been in uncomfortable situations.

For so long, I had blurred memories. I began to question myself and wonder if things that happened to me were real, because they seemed so awful when I thought about them. I often felt like I made them up or that they were not as bad as they seemed. I still often feel like my life is a lie and that my memories are too traumatic to really remember.

But every survivor is different, and all stories are important. These stories in this column will be about me and my vulnerabilities, but also they will be a way to give advice to become stronger. I will share parts of my life that have been changed because of my survivor identity. I hope that this community can find ways to cope and to heal alongside me, and realize that survivors in this community are not alone. Survivors: you are allowed to be angry, resentful, upset, or whatever you may be feeling. I still hate looking at myself in the mirror sometimes.

I am open about my life, and have been able to accept myself for who I am. Please feel free to leave comments, and I will be there for you, as my friends and my new family have been there for me. I will not respond to distasteful comments. I want to be able to help people heal because the process takes a while and you can always be triggered. But you are always part of the community. If you don’t feel comfortable leaving comments, you can email me at janedoeDG@gmail.com.


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0 comments

  1. 0
    Admirer says:

    Dear JD,
    I know that it always seems easier to put bad things in a box and bury it, and only deal with the contents if something knocks or jostles the box. It is really amazing and selfless that you are opening your box for Daily Gazette readers. Do find the process of sharing and opening up to be helpful and do you recommend it to others among us who have something we keep locked up? Or do you think it is okay to keep something bad hidden away (unless it’s forced to come out) so it doesn’t permeate other aspects of life?
    Thank you!

    1. 0
      Jane Doe ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Dear Admirer,

      I really appreciate your comment and question. For me, it was a matter of time. I don’t think it’s bad at all to keep something hidden away if you’re not ready to think about it or if you know it will affect you in a negative way. I kept this part of my life hidden for a long time, and I’m sharing it now because I think some of it could be helpful for people to read to heal and also to see that there are people in our community who have certain struggles. Plus, keeping it hidden didn’t help me, but that’s my own struggle.

      There are definitely pros and cons to both. Sharing, I feel like there is a burden being lifted from me, but it also opens a door to new vulnerabilities, especially when people don’t necessarily agree with you. Keeping things hidden means that I’m not opening myself to those vulnerabilities in the first place, but I don’t feel that sense of relief.

      I also don’t think anything should ever be forced to come out. If you’re not ready to share or you’re unwilling to share with certain people, there should be no pressure. Everyone has some sort of pain in their life, and not everyone can understand or sympathize with that pain.

      I know that not everyone will read or care to read this column. But if I can help other people through their traumas, then it’s worth it. If you feel the need to share something, there is someone out there who will listen.

      Also, I know that this was a lot of ambiguous and long-winded chitchat, so if you have any other questions, please feel free to email me!

  2. 0
    Paul Cato says:

    Thank you for this.

    It looks as though this column will provide a perspective not always considered during campus-wide discussions of sexual assault and violence, and though not a survivor myself I look forward reading every installment. At one point you write of frustration you felt with some of your friends and their lack of support. I hope you can speak on those experiences, and how exactly you wish your friends had responded – I think your insight will help those of us who wish to serve as allies but aren’t entirely sure of the best/proper way to do so.

    1. 0
      Jane Doe ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Dear Paul,

      I will definitely write about ways that friends can/ should respond in my next piece. However, if it doesn’t answer enough questions, I think I will have a piece sometime where people can send me questions and I will answer them here. If you at any point have more specific questions though, please feel free to send me an email at janedoedg@gmail.com.

      JD

  3. 0
    thank you says:

    I’m sure many swatties will be grateful for your column. I don’t know what you’ve experienced, but maybe I can still ask: could you perhaps some time discuss what happens when a swattie rapes a swattie?

    1. 0
      Jane Doe ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Dear thank you,

      I have been assaulted by a swattie before, and I will try to discuss that within a certain context. Is there a particular issue you would want me to discuss?

      JD

      1. 0
        thank you says:

        I’ve heard of swatties not being punished for this conduct and I wonder how a survivor copes with that – with continuing to go to school with the person.

  4. 0
    senior survivor says:

    “I didn’t want to think that I was a survivor. I kept thinking that worse things have happened to better people and that rape only happens in dark alleys and that I wasn’t special in anyway. I didn’t want to believe that I was sexually abused or raped or assaulted ever in my life, even if I had been in uncomfortable situations.”
    Thank you thank you thank you for saying this. I’m constantly justifying my experiences my saying, “it could have been much worse, and it has been much worse for other people, I shouldn’t complain.”

  5. 0
    another student says:

    What an incredibly brave column! So sorry about all the hurt you went through, and thank you for reaching out to the student body in this way.

  6. 0
    grateful says:

    “I will share parts of my life that have been changed because of my survivor identity. I hope that this community can find ways to cope and to heal alongside me, and realize that survivors in this community are not alone. Survivors: you are allowed to be angry, resentful, upset, or whatever you may be feeling. I still hate looking at myself in the mirror sometimes.”

    YES. Thank you so much for sharing.

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