Ever since I decided to transition from the field of psychology to the field of human rights, I have had to update my resume several times to include the many exciting volunteer, internship, and academic opportunities I have had the privilege to complete. One specific word substitution, however, seems to be the most important revision I have had to make so far. Under the qualifications section, instead of dedication to victim assistance, my resume now reads dedication to survivor assistance. The change might seem subtle and perhaps will not even be noticed by many who review my resume, but it expresses completely the shift from a view that places those in need of assistance as powerless, dependant, and unable to make it without support to a view that regards them as strong, independent, and able to take charge of their lives.
The debate on whether to refer to abused vulnerable populations as victims or survivors emerged in an Introduction to Human Rights class. The teaching assistant played a video clip of a well-respected journalist visiting a war-torn region in a sub-Saharan nation to speak with those still around and doing their best to keep living. When the clip ended, a discussion ensued and many of my classmates mentioned the role advocates should play to immediately assist “these victims.” At that point, I had to intervene and emphasize that as far as I was concerned, I did not see a single victim in that video clip. I saw women cooking and taking care of children, men searching for shelter to spend the night at a somewhat secure location, and children playing as if they had no care in the world. They had no comfortable and spacious homes, no modern amenities, and no brand-name clothes and shoes, but none of the people interviewed cried, complained, or demanded help. The people I saw in that video clip were survivors, not victims. Survivors who could adapt to the most inhospitable and dangerous environments, who could manage to grasp the value of life even when it is uncertain and painful, or maybe because it is uncertain and painful, and who were content simply to be alive. I have noticed similar attitudes among many human trafficking survivors. These survivors are an inspiration and they need no charity. What they need is an opportunity to enjoy their live, however uncomfortable it might seem to others.