Victimhood and the Myth of Choice

How common is the phrase "choose to be a victim"? It is certainly a lot more common than "Choose to make people victims." Simply put, a phrase meant to empower is actually disempowering and perpetuates dangerous myths about sexual abuse and sexual assault. It is the most insidious and pervasive form of victim blaming.

A victim is a person harmed by a crime. The only person who has a choice in the matter is the perpetrator. Putting the burden of choice on the victim, not only implies, but clearly communicates that the a person who has suffered as the result of a crime was somehow involved in its perpetration.

It is ironic that this phrase is frequently used by mental health professionals, advocates, and crusaders for social justice. Examples are easy to find; it has become part of our daily lexicon.

At times I self-identify as a victim. It is a simple statement of fact. I was sexually abused as a child and I suffered from it. When I self-identify as a victim, I invariably generate negative responses:

"Don't choose to be a victim."

"Why would you choose to be a victim? You are a survivor."

"Going around with a victim mentality doesn't help anyone."

While these statements are meant to be encouraging, they imply that I had a hand in my own suffering. I have chosen to go to therapy and avail myself of many other resources, but my journey of healing does not negate the fact that a crime happened. And, it does not negate the fact that I was harmed.

Actually, a crime just didn't happen. My perpetrator consciously chose-- time and time again-- to abuse me. And, it is absurd to say that sexual abuse of a child is not harmful.

Victim is a dangerous word to debase. It feeds perpetrator's twisted perceptions that the victim is somehow complicit in his or her own abuse. It also taps into the shame that victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault invariably feel.

Independence, strength, empowerment, and choice are hallmarks of our culture. For that very reason, victims suffer. During a sexual assault, the victims are rendered helpless and voiceless through now fault of their own.

One chooses to deal with the hurt and move forward in life after a horrific crime, but one does not choose to be a victim. Perpetrators choose to make victims of innocent children and adults. Let's stop insinuating it is the other way around.

"Don't choose to be a victim" is far from an empowering statement. It is a dangerous one that feeds perceptions and beliefs that make society a friendlier place for perpetrators than victims.