Victim or a Victor? – The Uninvited Guest : a powerful reflection by RJ Ambassador Rosalyn.
We were going to write a Christmas blog about our 2020 achievements, but then this profound and moving piece of writing from Rosalyn Boyce arrived in our inbox. Rosalyn met the man who violently attacked and raped her at knife-point in a Restorative Justice meeting in 2014. Her words in this reflective piece capture the essence of Why me?’s mission and work.
In this piece Rosalyn reflects on discussion generated at the Independent Commission into the Experience of Victims and Long-Term Prisoners that took place on the 26th of November 2020.
Victim or a Victor? – The Uninvited Guest
During a panel this week, I heard a fellow panel member, who had been through horrific trauma, speak about how she was no longer a Victim but a Victor. This prompted me to ask myself the question:- “Am I a Victim or a Victor?”. Therefore, in an attempt to answer this complex question, the following is written through my own eyes, with a deep respect for other victims of crime in all their forms; always remembering each crime is unique to the people involved and cannot be packaged in any other way when discussing the individual human condition.
Yes, I am a victim in the eyes of the law, just as my attacker is a perpetrator. He may not like being called a perpetrator just as I do not like being called a victim – but the fact remains – just as the sky is blue and day follows night – I am the raped and he is the raper. Therefore, I will not brush the word away or hide from the ugliness and full weight of it. I am a victim.
However, hearing myself being called a victim, to this day – 21 years after the attack – has the ability to induce a gut wrenching fury at being forcibly dragged back onto the victim heap – rendering the person I was before unrecognisable – one minute here, the next forgotten – and all because of a stranger’s choice; through no choice of my own. This injustice can easily engulf the receiver of serious crime if not kept in constant check – I believe this purely depends upon the context in which the word victim is used.
As any professional who works with victims of crime will hopefully be able to tell you – being a victim is multifaceted and complex. On the day we become a victim we are simultaneously given the gift of hypervigilance – which affords us the (previously hidden) ability to spot the subtle inflection in someone’s voice and the pity in their eyes that simply wasn’t there before. All of this now becomes all too glaringly obvious to us and further twists the knife, it never gets any easier. In fact, it is far easier to stop eye contact altogether, to hide away – Something I did for many years – and is easy to spot in people who have suffered trauma. Yet, in order to carry on our infinite road to recovery – we must eventually tilt our heads upwards again and face another’s soul head on in order to see the mirror of our own.
Therefore, if I am able to so easily and vehemently be triggered by one simple word – How can I, In all honesty, say I am not a victim? – when the trauma switch can still flick and plunge me into the darkness of my own victim mentality at any moment, – bringing on a case of the poor me’s, the why me’s? the screamer who rages inwardly at the injustice, silence and madness of it all and threatens, not just to overwhelm, but to consume. Here we learn that victimhood and being a victim are worlds apart. One you choose, the other you do not.
Then, there is the further insult of being tossed by society onto the victim heap with all the perceptions the victim heap brings… fear, vulnerability, weakness,
pain, hurt, sadness, anger, helplessness, lack of control, powerlessness and, of course, trauma. Of being perceived and judged as somehow less than we once were and less than all those other people who are still whole.
This version of victimhood is perception based – and, although we may not be able to change the perception of a whole society – We can change our own perception in the hope this filters down through society in some small way. Again, we have to take responsibility here (learning to take responsibility for something we had no part in instigating can be an insult in itself) and begin to differentiate between our perception and another’s. This takes time and insight- the realisation that perception is hardly ever based on reality – was, for me, a breakthrough on my voyage and often helps me when compassion and understanding of another’s perception is called for.
There comes a time, if you are one of the fortunate ones, when you realise being labelled a victim is OK – it is just a word – and we are only humans trying to communicate using the platform of language.
Around the same time you realise you can also turn the hyper-vigilance inwards on yourself to stave off that persistent uninvited guest called trauma – the one you cross the road to avoid, the one you ignore the door to, until you realise you left a crack in the window for her to crawl through and before you know it here she is permeating your otherwise wonderful day.
When that happens, seldom now, but when it does – and I realise it is too late – all that is left to do is to let the unwanted one in and offer her a seat at my table, pour the tea and sit the tedium out – because she is oh so boring and familiar – but perhaps it’s easier than fighting her on that particular day – and the quicker you give in and deal with her the quicker she will leave.
The difference for me today, compared to many years ago is that, after a large amount of therapy and work – I recognise what is happening when the trauma train accelerates. I may not always be able to deal with it as fast as the train runs over me – but I am aware I am being run over and I will deal with the injuries later – because, sure as night follows day – this too shall pass.
It seems to me the trick with trauma is to get creative, recognise your stronger moments and face it all head on when you are able. In the meantime, self-compassion becomes your most reliable friend – plus the ability to accept that this is your life sentence – simply a different life sentence than was handed down to the perpetrator in a court of law – acceptance is another key to survival.
So, am I a victor? – I have had moments of victory – such as the opportunity to look the perpetrator in the eye, in prison, fourteen years after the attack, – and offer the man who sat in front of me that day my heartfelt forgiveness – then watch him break down and cry like a small child.
Paradoxically, rather than beg for my forgiveness – he saw the words coming before they arrived – and he begged me not to forgive him – because without me saying so he truly understood that the underlying theme of my forgiveness meant I was handing back the overwhelming weight of responsibility of his crimes to him, which in turn afforded me my freedom. In that moment I realised that this was the most powerful response I could ever have had.
Only then was I able to stand up with my previously shattered dignity back in place – and walk out of the room – having handed back the pain and suffering to its original owner, where it truly belongs. There was only one victim that day and it wasn’t me.
Interestingly, during our meeting I also posed the theory to the perpetrator that he, too, was a victim. This invoked simultaneous anger and denial in him. “Don’t you see?” I said “You are a victim of your own making – who has led most of his life as an existence between four walls. You are a victim of the experiences and choices that led you here” – In that fleeting moment, I could see limited rehabilitation in his eyes. I had got what I came for – I had my answers. I happily accepted and savoured victory on that day. I had earned it.
Since then I have been through a thousand victim-survivor-victor-thriver-back-to victim cycles. It’s just how it goes.
– Am I a survivor? Yes – I have moments of screaming “YES!” and realising I am still alive, I survived – I have had an extra 21 years and counting on the planet and in that moment I feel every cell sing “Hallelujah” just to be alive as only one who has stared death in the face can.
Am I a thriver? Yes, I have times when I thrive – usually in the quiet moments when I sense everything is in order, when I sit in silence, embrace simplicity and realise that I have some grasp on this thing called life – therefore I am not destroyed.
In conclusion – I recognise I am not what happened to me – I am whomever I choose to be on any given day. On the days when I am not strong enough to choose – then I simply check out. This can mean I plod through the day or I don’t and I climb under the covers instead. It doesn’t really matter – nothing is permanent. The important thing is I do the best with what I have and accept who I am.
Therefore, the answer is a resounding YES– the victim, the survivor, the thriver and the survivor all have a place at my table – and because of each one of them I am here.
Thank you Rosalyn for sharing your experiences and reflections with Why me?. Your story and words are incredibly powerful and encapsulate why we do what we do. You can read more about Rosalyn’s story here.