By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
Those of you who've been following See the Triumph may already know that the name of our campaign comes from a quote from one of the participants in our studies, who said, "The only thing that bothers me about it is that other people can’t see the triumph in it. Because to me this is a treasure to be at this point in my life, in this stage, and it be beginning. Some people don’t even start to realize that they have the issues or start dealing with them until they get to this point.”
This quote reflects the importance of the language that we use to describe our experiences, and how that language can influence how others perceive those experiences.
There is often discussion among survivors and those who work in the domestic violence field on the difference between describing those who have been abused as "victims" and/or "survivors." Both of these terms conjure up certain meanings, and sometimes people view them as two ends of a process of growth that people go through as they move beyond their past experiences with abuse.
What does it mean to be a victim? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a victim as "a person who has been attacked, injured, robbed, or killed by someone else; a person who is cheated or fooled by someone else; someone or something that is harmed by an unpleasant event." This definition implies that a victim is powerless to the person or event that has caused them harm.
And what about being a survivor? To survive means "to remain alive; to continue to live; to continue to exist." Although this language is certainly more positive and empowering than the word victim, mere survival seems to imply a basic level of functioning and existence.
What if we, as a society, followed the idea of our study participant and viewed those who have been abused as triumphing? Let's look closer at this definition, too. Triumph means "a great or important victory; a great success or achievement; the very happy and joyful feeling that comes from victory or success." We definitely heard the triumph in so many of the survivors' stories in our research. Even though this triumph may not mean that all challenges from the abuse have disappeared, I believe that people triumph each and every day when they refuse to let their lives be defined by their past experiences with abuse.
And, what if we took the notion of triumph to the societal level, where we made it our goal to fully triumph over the epidemic of intimate partner and sexual violence in our world? Let us envision that "very happy and joyful feeling" that we would have as a society from completely triumphing over abuse--by putting an end to it once and for all, so that every person can experience the world and relationships as safe, supportive, and nurturing. Of course, this is a huge task before us, but we can all work together, every single day, to work toward this triumphant vision of a safe and peaceful society that permeates every social and relational system.