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A rose by any other name?

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#1 linnea

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Posted 08 June 2003 - 11:00 AM

I think we have to be ready to use them - to be pushed too fast to refer to our own experiences in real terms I think can be a set back.

Even now there are times I struggle to use the words.  I wish I didn't and I wish my security in my ability to label what happened to me seventeen years ago wasn't so #### fragile at times.  I don't have the same issue with the childhood sexual abuse, though - that volation is so clear to me.  But has far as the rapes that occurred as a yound adult, the waters seem murkier for me.

The difficulty was in letting go of the need to feel some sense on control.  To say - I was raped and I was molested as a child - puts the responsibility of what happened on the perpetrator, right where it belongs.  But then I have to deal with all the despair and pain that goes with it.

letting go of the weight that isn't mine to carry would seem like the easier thing to do - but it is so hard.

that may be a rabbit trail, I don't know

#2 heathergrrl

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Posted 08 June 2003 - 12:21 PM

I have never out loud said "I was raped". I'm not comfortable with that. I have also worked with many sexual assault survivors, and they vary with how they wish to describe their experience. Sometimes it can be a process, where you start out with "that thing that happened" and once you feel comfortable with that moving up to "my sexual assault".

In what I have seen from the real world, no one just talks about sexual assault. Here we are all survivors and feel like it is okay to use any words we want. I would never talk to other people I know the same way I talk here about myself and my experiences.

In terms of euphamisms (how do you spell that?). I would guess that they are used more for rape/sexual assault than for everyday experiences. However, I think some other trauma's could compare to rape/sexual assault. Like misscarriage, suicide attempt, murder, death, kidnapping, war, etc. Not every time, but often times euphamisms are used both by other people and the victims because the real words are too scary, or because we're afraid of the other persons reaction to those words.

I think oftentimes people who were not raped or assaulted don't use euphamisms for rape/sexual assault at all. I see survivors as the ones who use euphamisms more at least when talking to people who are not themselves survivors. But thats just my experience, what I've noticed. I'm sure it isn't true for everyone.


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Posted 08 June 2003 - 03:26 PM

Well labelling my experience has been difficult - here and in therapy/counselling I admit I do use the terms sexual assault (well sometimes in therapy) or I refer to my childhood experience as CSA or simply child abuse. But in rl I find I use the term sexual abuse (rather than assault)or sometimes I even say 'he use to touch me in a way that would make me feel uncomfortable and i'd ask him to stop but he didn't' So i'd basically be sitting describing the experience rather than labelling. My father has always referred to such experiences (not my own necessarily) as someone 'interfering' with another eg 'he interfered with his daughter.' For some reason he couldn't say 'he sexually abused his daughter.' I accept that - that is how he is with using those words - they are difficult for me to use so I don't feel bad that he has difficult with them also. As long as people can accept the label I put on things. Oh and the reason I don't use the term sexual assault in rl is because legally sexual assault means rape or some kind of forced penetration where I was not - I was only indecently assaulted. So it does come under sexual abuse. But I don't even say indecent assault a lot because many people wouldn't really understand what that means (well I think many in my family wouldn't) but they understand sexual abuse.

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Posted 09 June 2003 - 09:18 AM

Em, thank you for posting this...
& Lou.. you go girl..

I have been through several years of therapy trying to deal with my gang rape, and until I found Pandy's I could never call it rape, much less gang rape.  It was always the "assault" or the "attack", never that I was raped.  The longer I was here, and realized deep inside that I wasn't alone, and that I didn't have to be ashamed or afraid, I felt such a liberation.

I know this is going to sound strange, and please don't take it the wrong way, but now, saying that I was gang raped, I feel empowered.  Because of the strength, comfort and compassion of all the members of this site..  I no longer carry all the shame and guilt that I once did.  It's like a new day.

My dear friend Lou...(((LOU))))  You say it so well..
***Of course, I ALWAYS had that dignity - I just didn't know it because society has for far too fucking long stigmatized and reviled people who have been raped, and I believe I had internalized this stigma. This stigmatizations silences rape victims, and it is bullshit.***

All too often this is what we as survivors have had to put up with.  

***Quite possibly some of my lovely friends here have found, as I did, that saying "I was Raped" out loud makes it more "real"; it can bring the rape and all it's implications much closer. It often lets in feelings and memories that people often spend lots of time and energy pushing away. That's scary and might initially be disruptive, but it's my firm belief that there is always eventually rich empowerment in calling our experiences by their name. ***

My feelings exactly..

Well, better stop rambling..

Take care all..


(Edited by Dana at 11:21 am on June 9, 2003)

#5 frenchie

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Posted 10 June 2003 - 03:11 AM


Very well said.  I agree.  Thre is a danger for the word rape to ecome such a horid word that no one will be able to say it.. that in stself takes the "power" away from a "victime" if you will.

To me being able to say the word "rape" or "asult" empowers me.  I name what was doen to me,,, and I in turn point blank can stand my ground and say ,, yes he raped me.  When you think about the abuser or attacker tries to "bully" us into submission with negative use of sex and control.  By calling a Spade a Spade,, we say,, nu uhu buddy,, I know hwwwta you are doing.

When working at the womans shelter we tried to instill in the woman that there is is a celebration is surviviing the attacks, rapes and beatings.  When a woman is able to point blank say "I was raped by my bf" or "I was beaten by my husband" we applaud that success.  That's the first step in healing for a lof of woman in our shelter.. naming the feeling or action takes the power AWAY from it.

Labels can be very dangeroouse I have learned.  I prime example is the word "retarded".  It is so hated that it is used to humiliate and demean certain people when really it was originally used to discribe a medical condition.  It's the one and only word that can set me off when I hear it used in a NEGATIVE manner.  When used in the wrong context it can really hurt.

Same thing with the words we use to discribe our experiences.  to "hide" it in words that are covers for it only will give more power to the negative view of them.

At the same time,, allowing a "victim" to say them only WHEN THEY are ready.. when they are ready to stand up and say,, "yes,, this is what was done to me".

Empowerment is the key,, and that comes from the ability to make choices.  We can choose what ever we want to discribe how we feel, and think.


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Posted 22 August 2003 - 07:25 PM

Hi Em and everyone, have read all the messages,  I find it very hard, to say the names,  As I feel so dirty, when saying the words,  can't name the parts of my body, down there either!  everything to do with there and the acts that were done to me, is so filthy, that I struggle to verbalise it.  In my head, I know and say them, but only inside,  can't say them out loud.  Suppose you are further down the road to your healing?  Mind you, this has happened since I was 5yr old, and I am 45 now.  But only being dealing with it, in the last 4-5yrs, Suffered for 13yrs, on a daily basis, more than twice a day, due to the men, that were allowed to do things to me.
 I don't know if this makes sense really, ignore if it did'nt.  Sorry Catherine

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Posted 08 June 2003 - 10:28 AM

As some of you know I've just started Rape Crisis Centre training. At our last session we ended up talking about what to call rape. To clients we are supposed to call their incident whatever they name it. This is for two reasons: 1) We shouldn't be labelling their experiences for them. 2) Often the information they give in terms of narrative is so dislocated as to prevent us from knowing exactly what they're describing.

That's all well and good...except that our conversation took us down a connected path, and ended up with one of the trainers saying that she didn't think words connected with sexual violence were exchanged for euphemisms any more than any other word. It was there I started to wonder if I was insane. I don't get how someone who works full-time with survivors can fail to see how we are linguistically encouraged into silence.

From the fixed collocation of 'cry rape' to the bloodless 'assault' and 'attack' used as a synonym for 'rape' on countless TV shows I feel that we are silenced by the use of words to describe experiences similar to our own.

I tried to explain how I felt when people persist in referring to what happened to me as 'what happened' or 'your childhood' or 'you know' [insert significant look]. It makes me angry that I'm being put into the position of feeling shame through their inability to articulate with any degree of truth and honesty what happened to me. If I can survive it, why the fuck can they not say it? It's like the word alone will taint them.

At the other end of the spectrum is the school of thought which labels all women as 'victims of rape' because we are subjugated by the patriarchy. While I agree that all women are kept in a state of fear by the prevalence of rape, I think it muddies the waters to an unnacceptable degree to start labelling other non-rape experiences as rape. I'm not talking about the so-called 'grey areas' here, nor am I saying that other incidents of sexual violence are in some way measurable as 'not as bad' as rape. Nor am I denying the realities of oral, anal, or digital rape. I just feel that when you label things accurately, you can begin to own them. To me it was intensely liberating to say 'I was raped', or 'I was abused'. It just doesn't fly for me to say 'when I was younger some bad things happened'. While that's true, it's not all the truth.

It seems to me from reading what others here have written that being given permission to use correct terms demystifies the horror in some way. The trainer at the centre said 'after all people don't call it CSA in everyday conversation'. I wanted to say 'well actually, I know a place they do'. I'm so #### glad that I found this place for a zillion reasons, but today I'm glad that it's given me freedom to call a spade a spade. Not a shovel. Not a trowel. To me, a verbal person, knowing that there was a vocabulary for this has helped me to put it into perspective. Living in horror of something is more difficult when you know its title. When you have a peg to hang your feelings on it seems to me that you have more latitude to explore what that peg represents. If you don't know what it's called, how can you deal with it?

How do you all feel about the real words: incest, rape, abuse etc.?

#8 Laney

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Posted 08 June 2003 - 10:58 AM


I, like you, am a very verbal person.  I seem to <i>need</i> to call things what they are.  "That thing that happened" drives me INSANE.

I can definately understand the point of not naming someone else's experiences, I think all survivors need to find that place where they can say what happened in a term that fits for them.

<i>The trainer at the centre said 'after all people don't call it CSA in everyday conversation'</i>

I've had similar things said to me by various people.  Funny, if I, or one of my close friends is talking about rape or abuse, it is just that.  Not "what happened to so and so."  I understand that for survivors there might be a point where you can't find the right word, but that doesn't mean that no one can.

Ramble ramble...

<i>How do you all feel about the real words: incest, rape, abuse etc.? </i>

I wish they didn't have to exist, but since they do, lets call things what they are.


#9 Monika

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Posted 08 June 2003 - 11:27 AM

It's amazing what we do with language sometimes. It can be used to silence, repress, imprison, deny... all sorts of things, really. You bring up an excellent point, Em, how can we heal from something that we are unable to appropriately label? Particularly when our very environment discourages use of appropriate labels as a way of--I think--protecting themselves from the feelings it evokes within them. It's a selfish thing that others do, sometimes. Other times I genuinely believe it is their way of trying to protect some victims/survivors from further pain.

And, yeah, I think we do have to be ready to use the appropriate language in order to fully own our experiences. For many people there seems to be a cycling through self-doubt (eg. was it really what I think it was? Does it count b/c it happened to me and I don't feel like I count?) to being ready to handle the consequences of our experiences (eg. I was raped and holy shit it hurts) to healing from them (eg. I'm important, I matter, what happens to me is important. I deserve better. I can give myself better.).

How we each go through that cycle is a process as unique as our individual selves. In other words, everyone's process through takes it's own time. Everyone is unique, therefore everyone's process is unique. We need only honor ourselves and our processes and we walk through them striving for health and wholeness.

Did that make any sense? Repeat after me, "Rain should not write when sleep deprived."

I am working hard to own my experiences, heal from them while growing into someone I can respect. I'm finding that it is a challenging, often messy process that requires a great deal of gentleness from ourselves.

I'm also finding that we are the best role models for others... So, Em-babe, I have full faith that you will teach them what is true and real and how to use language in appropriate, respectful ways. As always, my hat goes off to you for your strength and courage in paving a gentler path for so many other survivors.

Take gentle care,

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Posted 08 June 2003 - 12:10 PM

<i>How do you all feel about the real words: incest, rape, abuse etc.?

I wish they didn't have to exist, but since they do, lets call things what they are.</i>

Well said, Laney.

I am a very verbal person myself... I have to know exactly what everything is... Most of you know that I had a REALLY hard time labeling the rapes with Kyle... a few people irl told me that I didn't have to label it... just let it go and it will come to you eventually. I couldn't do that. And, like you guys, it drives me NUTSO when others refer to it as "what he did" or "that thing that happened with Kyle." even before I knew what to call it, it drove me nuts when people used those "terms."

okay, I'm gonna quit rambling now. :)


#11 AuroraPixie

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Posted 08 June 2003 - 12:29 PM

I could not say the word "rape" out loud for many years. I still stumble over it. I still only very very rarely say it. I understand to say it would be FREEING, and I would finally stop MINIMIZING my experience. But as you all know, minimizing is a coping mechanism. I've never dealt with the full realization that it was a RAPE and it was terrifying and yes, even violent. I wasn't beaten, but I was forcibly held down.

I can admit that here, but I don't really believe it. I still tell myself I ought to have fought. I shouldn't have been there in the first place. It wasn't rape because I didn't call the police after.

Calling it RAPE terrifies me. I'm trying to come to terms with it now, and I'm having constant anxiety attacks. I'm awfully depressed. Years of calling it "what happened that night" or  "He made me have sex with him" allowed me to shelve my pain. I'm trying as hard as I can to deal with it now, lay it to rest.

:( It hurts so, so much. :(

#12 Cira

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Posted 08 June 2003 - 01:36 PM

(Fair warning - I'm completely sleep deprived and it's entirely like that I will say a lot without really contributing anything)

I've always hated how others referred to some of my experiences.  I hate hearing it referred to as "What happened with D---" or "The situation with Jody" or if I was really lucky sometimes it was "The time Jody took advantage of you".  'Took advantage', my foot.  And the stumbled "You know..." with that meaningful, slightly uncomfortable <i>look</i> has been more hurtful to me than anything.  I always want to blurt out "Yes, I know and so do you, so why don't we just call a spade a spade?"  I know that these people are often simply trying to 'protect me'.  But to that little girl inside of me, what it translates into is "this is so shameful that we can't even call it what it is."  To me, it translates into silence.  Suddenly, I feel uncomfortable about labeling my own experience with them, because there is now the feeling that they are more comfortable if they don't hear the 'r-word'.  I remember when I was first dating Chris and he learned I had been sexually abused as a child.  He told me about the fact that his mom had been sexually abused as well.  While I know that he was just trying to help me to feel comfortable in confiding in him and his heart was completely in the right place, one thing about that conversation has always stuck out in my mind.  When he mentioned it, he said that his grandpa had "tried to get into bed with" his mom...or something to that effect.   He wouldn't label it, and I felt like dryly saying "Oh, you mean she was sexually abused." - though I guess it's not mine to label. It's just that what I heard in what he said is "I'm uncomfortable talking about this and therefore am probably not the best person to confide in."

In talking with another member recently, she told me about her 'experience' (for lack of a better word, because I don't want to label what is not mine) and asked me if I thought it was rape.  I was glad that she had the guts to ask and to voice her fears and her questions, but I was kind of like, "Okay, I want to validate her, but how can I label something that isn't mine to label?"  

Labeling is something that is very hard, and I think there is some damage in forcing one to label 'it' before they are ready.  Years ago, after the second date rape, I was talking about it with one of my close friends, and she said to me, "You know, you were raped." and I about lost it.  I was just not ready to face it, to see it for what it really was.  In some ways, she helped me to see later on that it WAS rape, but there was also something greatly disturbing about having someone take my experience and label it for me.

However, I am of the belief that labeling our experiences is one of the most powerful things we can do.  It's so very hard, because we are forced to acknowledge that something did happen - we are forced out of the denial that we have lived in.  We are forced to take ownership of the rapes/abuse.  We are forced to acknowledge that it was a big deal and that it does matter.  There is a certain fear there.  But yes, doing so helps us to heal.  How <i>can</i> we heal from something if we don't know what it is we are healing from?  To me, labeling each of the experiences has been validating and empowering.  It has given me the chance to say "I was raped.  This is what happened to me.  I don't want it, but it is mine.  It's not 'the situation' or 'that thing that happened'.  It is not something that I wish to hide from any longer.  It was a big deal.  It did hurt me."  For me, labeling it (although it made 'it' painfully real) has helped to dispel the shame.  It has helped to make it less scary somehow.  I do have a hard time talking about the rapes in RL.  I have a very hard time saying "I was raped.  I was sexually abused."  But I think that it is something that we all must do in order to heal.  

Good grief, would someone tell me to shut up?!  I've rambled far too long, and probably contributed nothing.  I should follow Rain's example and post only when fully awake. :)


#13 Rhonda55

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Posted 08 June 2003 - 03:09 PM

I think it's hard for some people to say the real words. But i have to agree with stefka because if they need to hear the real words and knowing what happened to them is raped. Then why not call it for what it really is. I mean why should we be ashame for what happened to us and not called it rape. We have to call it for what it is don't we? Thats the only way i knew how to be strong by using the real words and to move on with my life. But they are alot of people who doesn't feel safe or feel confortable using the real words. I don't think there is an easier way to say the words or to say what happened to me. But it's always going to be hard to use the real words  though. I don't know if i made any sense or not.

Take care

(Edited by Rhonda55 at 10:38 pm on June 8, 2003)

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Posted 08 June 2003 - 04:08 PM

These words describe certain actions.

For some people, these words also signify something more about a dark side of human nature, about peoples' vulnerability and lack of safety, and about shame.  That's enough to keep a lot of victims silent.

In my opinion we will never heal unless we can talk about what happened.  It isn't necessary to give it a name, but it seems like this is a good thing to do.  As people use these words more often, the words will come to represent only the actions that occurred, and not all the other things that might be signified by the words.  I think that change is already happening, but it changing slowly.  

I hope this makes sense.  Personally, I have enormous difficulty with the word "incest".  I can barely type it here.

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Posted 08 June 2003 - 04:57 PM

Well, first of all congratulations on starting your training.  I think that is great.  As for your question..I don't have a whole lot to say except that using real names can sometimes make me feel guilty.  Like my abuse doesn't "deserve" to be called "r*pe" because there are so many out there whose abuse is much more severe.  Besides, I always blame myself about not being clear enough with saying no...so, when r*pe comes to mind, I think of something far more serious than what happened to me.  I know this is weird, but it's all I can think of right now.  Again, congrats, i'm proud of ya! ;)

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