Victim or Survivor?

Trigger Warning: Rape, Violence Against Women

Spoiler Alert: Private Practice, “Did You Hear What Happened to Charlotte King?”

After watching the latest episode of Private Practice, I am left contemplating this society’s culture around rape.  The previous episode ends with Dr. Charlotte King being yanked into her office in the hospital.  The next episode takes us to the scene after the fact, as Charlotte, covered in cuts and blood, crawls across the floor to grab her panties, lock them in her desk drawer, hide the key, then stumble out of her office to the medical supply closet, where a fellow doctor and friend, Pete, finds her and takes care of her.    

When Pete leaves Charlotte alone for a moment to get the nurse she requests, Charlotte calls Addison, another doctor she knows well.  She called Addison in because she was raped, but refuses to tell anyone but Addison, who she tells only to have the necessary medical precautions taken care of.  Despite Addison’s urging and attempts to help, Charlotte says that if everyone, if her husband, Cooper, is to look at her the way Addison looks at her, knowing, then she doesn’t want help.  She refuses a rape kit.  At one point she says “Ain’t life a bitch?”  When Cooper later calls her a victim, she throws her tray of food at him and tells him that if he ever calls her a victim again their marriage is over.  Besides Addison, the story everyone believes to be the full truth is that the man took Charlotte’s wallet and beat her up.

Meanwhile, another doctor from the practice where Charlotte, Addison, Pete, and Cooper work, Sheldon, is at the precinct questioning and talking to a man found wandering the streets screaming, covered in blood belonging to someone else.  At least in this episode, the two sides, Sheldon in the police station, and everyone else in the hospital, do not connect.  The man admits that he “gave it to her,” but never says who “her” is.  He also assaults Sheldon, ending their interrogation session.

Despite the fullest arrest that can be brought, the man has the potential to walk with bail.  Sheldon protests, asserting that they are about to release a rapist back onto the streets.  The policeman says, “Ain’t life a bitch?”

So here we are, the woman raped not willing to tell anyone but her doctor, the rapist able to walk from jail, as the police have no victim.

This would be terrifying enough if it were just fiction.  Many rapes go unreported.  Even when rapes are reported and rape kits are taken, many of the kits remain unprocessed (for example: http://badgerherald.com/news/2010/10/11/thousands_of_rape_ki.php).  Without a victim, rapists walk on lesser charges if any.

What does this say of our culture?  Why do people who are raped so often feel it is their own fault?  Why do so many people who are raped not seek help?  Or refuse to report?  Or refuse the rape kit?  Why do so many rap kits remain unprocessed? 

Our culture’s reaction to rape is one that places one as the victim, the other as the victimizer.  We put this victim in a vulnerable place.  We assume the broken.  We pity them, feel sorry for them.  We want to help.  We want to fix it.  We want many different things, sometimes too much, sometimes not enough.  But how often do we want to see a rape victim as a survivor?

Charlotte doesn’t want the world looking at her the way Addison does, with her pity.  She never wants to be called a victim.  She wants no one to know of the rape.  According to anyone, she was not raped.

Even the police call the people subject to crime “victims.”  There is often shame involved, even beyond instances of rape.  Cooper, not knowing Charlotte was raped, still feels horrible about his inability to protect Charlotte; he is ashamed he has failed her, without even knowing the true extent of what happened.

If Addison had looked at Charlotte and assured her that she will make it, that she is a strong woman, that she has survived, that she is a survivor, Charlotte may have given her the same response she did in the episode:  “Have you ever been violated?  Anyone raped you lately?”  But what responsibility does our culture’s conception of rape have to do with it?

What happened to Charlotte, what has happen to far too many people and continues to happen, goes beyond a terror nd trauma that most can even begin to conceptualize.  As with most negative things we are unable to fully grasp or respond to unless we have been through the same, one of our most immediate responses is “I’m sorry.”  “How horrible.”  “You poor thing.”  “That must have been terrible for you.”  There is undeniable importance in empathy, sympathy, comfort, acknowledgment of the horror, the pain, the suffering.  But what are we missing by not empowering the other side, the side that survived?

This may all come across as presumptuous and pretentious.  I do not assume I know.  I simply wish to question whether it is always best to see the victim and not the survivor.  The wounds and not the healing.  The past and not the potential.  The suffering and not the strength.  The powerlessness and not the agency.  I do not want to look at someone and tell them they are a victim.  Likewise, it may not be any better to tell them they are a survivor.  I want to open the possibility for them to determine for themselves.  For them to have some determination in how the world sees them, and if not the whole world, then at least those closest who mean the most.  For them to see the many facets.  To still see that person, not just the pain, not just the broken; to not simply reduce them to “the victim.”  To allow them the opportunity to see themselves and ask their world to see them as a survivor. 

Life may be a bitch, but we aren’t always victims to it; we can survive it.

After writing this post, I stumbed upon this article: http://cliqueclack.com/tv/2010/11/05/private-practice-shes-no-victim/

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One Response to Victim or Survivor?

  1. Anonymous says:

    As a rape survivor, yes, it is terrible to be seen as a victim. My own was not reported because it was date rape, my word against his. Hell, it wasn’t even until my shrink told me “mental coercion is still coercion” that *I* accepted it was rape. Many of my friends – even those who know – continue to be friends with my assailant. In avoiding choosing who to believe, they in effect decide I am lying, and that I am a victim. What do ya do? Grit your teeth, accept life is a bitch, that I’m lucky I’m in a culture that doesn’t believe in honor killings, and move on…..

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