For many, the word ‘victim’ has a negative connotation, especially when it comes after experiencing sexual assault. In our society, using the word ‘victim’ to describe someone is seen as an insult. According to an article by the Huffington Post, the word ‘victim’ is frequently used in a judgmental and derogatory way. Shame and weakness are attached to this term.
Beth Whalley is a victim of sexual assault, but she doesn’t view the word ‘victim’ in a negative way. In fact, Whalley embraces this term, and she wants to combat the assumptions made.
“Having survived sexual assault, I think it’s important to identify as a victim,” said Beth Whalley “Because I don’t see it as a negative, and I want to combat that common narrative that puts us in that position.”
Whalley is a PhD student who is only weeks away from graduating. She’s also finishing her dissertation that analyzes the rape culture in the United States and Ireland, a place she called her home for six months three years ago. Whalley says her dissertation takes a transnational feminist approach.
Although, Whalley experienced sexual assault while she was an undergraduate student in New York, she says her passion for learning and studying sexual violence started long before. It was while taking sociology and gender classes in college when she became interested in studying sexual harassment. This is why it bothers her when people assume that she’s doing her dissertation on rape, only because of her personal experience.
“A lot of people assume that I study rape because I was raped,” said Whalley.
Whalley does admit that her experience changed the way she thought about the issue. She learned that victims can’t prevent their own sexual assault.
As she completes her dissertation, Whalley hopes sexual assault victims/survivors – whichever way they choose to identify – find validation in her work.
“I think that if they saw my work and they were like thank you for suggesting that the way to fix my experience or to find healing is not necessarily through criminal legal means,” said Whalley.
She knows that each victim copes with their experiences in different ways. This is why she thinks it’s important for victims to have agency when it comes to choosing whether or not they want to report their perpetuator or just want to receive counseling.
Resources like The Office of Victim Assistance (OVA) at CU offer confidential services to students and staff, even when these aren’t ready or want to report their case. Jessica Ladd-Webert, the Director at OVA, says their office is confidential, and they help people know their rights and options if they do decide to report. Just like Whalley, Ladd-Webert believes it’s up to the victim to make the decision they want.
“And we are not here to report what happened to them,” said Jessica Ladd-Webert, “That is their choice.”
As for Whalley, she will continue to do more research on sexual assault. She’s looking forward to her new job in Birmingham where she will be a Sociology Professor.