We're Not Victims, We're Survivors: On Ke$ha, Abuse, and the Rediscovery of Words

Recent news of pop artist Ke$ha’s legal battle is showing the world just how problematic rape culture actually is. The odds are stacked against her as Ke$ha is faced with having to provide sufficient evidence for ten-year-old allegations that she was raped, drugged, and mentally abused by her producer, Dr. Luke. Some people may be wondering why she waited so long to take action against her producer, because if she hadn’t maybe she’d have evidence.

The thing about being raped is, no one wants to talk about it, and no one wants to listen. No one wants to talk about being attacked only to be told that it was their fault because of what they were wearing, because they’re too uptight, because they must have been flirting, etc. The most appalling part about the case is that Ke$ha is just trying to escape a contract. She isn’t trying to find justice by sending Dr. Luke to prison—she would just like the basic human right of not having to spend time with her abuser every day and making music in peace again. Because her bruises faded years ago, the New York Supreme Court denied Ke$ha the right to break a contract. The emotional trauma and bulimia Ke$ha endures should be evidence enough. If the world is still wondering why rape is the most underreported crime, just look at how well it’s worked out for Ke$ha. It quickly becomes clear why speaking up is a choice not everyone is able to make right away.

I first opened up to someone about being raped because the experience had started causing panic attacks. My first words were uttered with the help of Victim’s Advocate, a program facilitated by my university to offer emotional support and provide helpful resources to victims of sexual crimes. The name itself, Victim's Advocate, made me not want to go at first, because I didn’t like how it sounded, “victim.” But as I sat in that nice woman’s office and she told me about all the ways she could help me, I realized I didn’t have to identify as one forever.

The word “survivor” sounded much more positive, much more me.

I choose not to identify with a word that has such a negative connotation to it. Of course, “rape” and “assault” are negative words as well, but being called a victim only served to root me in a victimized mindset. Getting raped one night at a party may label me as a “victim of sexual assault,” but that doesn’t mean it has to define who I am, nor who anyone else is. “Survivor” of sexual assault sounds much more powerful, and being powerful is something that every survivor needs to remind themselves of. We are powerful, beautiful humans who will not let a sexual predator’s weakness and insecurity define our happiness and how we live our lives.

But of course, we can’t forget what it is we have survived. It is so easy for people to downplay the seriousness of sexual assault and rape. People make rape jokes, turn them into memes, or use the word “rape” to talk about their successes, i.e. “I just raped that final exam!” Survivors who don’t confront the crime that’s been done to them can easily go into denial, because, on the surface, ignoring what happened might seem easier than admitting the truth.

I eventually began talking to my loved ones about getting raped, and in that time I turned into a different person. Along with experiencing panic attacks, I became short-tempered, had radical mood swings, and dating was impossible. I tried forcing myself to date because, in my mind, that was my way of proving to myself that the scumbag who raped me wasn’t going to win. He wouldn’t ruin my ability to form emotional connections, to get close to someone. I went out on a couple of dates with a man about a month or two after I was raped. He was such a sweet guy, so respectful, and we never ran out of things to talk about. Everything was perfect, and if I had been emotionally stable I’m sure things would have worked out nicely. But I got scared. As I began to have feelings for him I realized I wasn’t ready to be with anyone. The thought of being intimate would nearly send me into another panic attack. In those five months, I had never felt so lost.

In one of my meetings with the Victim’s Advocate counselor, she gave me a book called Voices of CourageIt was filled with stories from other survivors of rape, both men and women. Their stories varied; some were taken advantage of as children by family members, some had suffered at the hands of home invaders. The stories were hard to stomach, but the bravery every single person displayed in sharing their story inspired me. As different as the stories were, each survivor encouraged the same thing: talking. So, after reading the book cover to cover, I finally got the courage to talk.

As a survivor, talking about rape and sexual assault can make a world of difference in the healing process. After speaking up, the stormy cloud that seemed to be following me everywhere for months had finally evaporated. Not only did my friends and family have an explanation for why I’d been acting so strangely, but I also discovered that I wasn’t alone. My story encouraged others to come forward and share theirs. As comforting as it was to have friends who understood what I was going through, it also deeply hurt me to know that they had had similar experiences. We could all relate to the violation, the helplessness, the rage. I had overcome the rage I’d been feeling towards myself and my attacker, and was somewhat at peace with it. But it’s a whole new kind of anger to find out that someone you love has also been taken advantage of in the same way. The important thing for me to remember when that anger starts to boil is that we’re all survivors, and we have each other to lean on.

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