What seems like a simple question has many important facets to its answer. Within victim services providers like, law enforcement offices, DA’s offices, and some support agencies like ours, the Resource Center for Victims of Violent Death, the NM Crime Victims Reparation Commission or the Grief Services Program within the NM Office of the Medical Investigator, these two terms are often used interchangeably. Even within these agencies you might be called a victim, survivor, or family member by anyone at any time. Read your newspaper, iPhone, iPad or watch the news on TV and see how they speak about the victims and the survivors.
“It is absolutely true that, in common usage, someone who lives through a life
– threatening illness or injury is said to have “survived” and is thus a “survivor.” And one who dies has not “survived.” Clearly, “homicide survivor or murder survivor” appears to be c ontrary to most people’s understanding, nobody who is murdered; survives. However, when it comes to explaining how you feel or want to be referred to either after an attempted murder or after your family has endured the murder of a loved one may depend on your definition of a victim or survivor. Let’s look at the actual definitions:
A “survivor” is:
a) somebody who survives:
somebody who remains alive despite being exposed to life – threatening danger;
b) somebody with great powers of endurance;
c) somebody who shows a great will to live or a great determination to overcome difficulties and carry on;
d) inheritor: the one of two or more people having joint interests in property who lives longer than the other or others and is, therefore, entitled to the entire property;
Synonyms: stayer, sticker, fighter, toughie.
A “victim” is:
a) somebody hurt or killed; somebody is hurt or killed by somebody or something, especially in a crime, accident, or disaster;
b) somebody or something harmed; somebody who or something that is adversely affected by an action or circumstance;
c) somebody is duped; somebody who is tricked or exploited.
Synonyms: injured party, fatality, casualty, sufferer.
I don’t know about you, but I see myself in both of these definitions as well as our son, Kevin.
However, most people in agencies, newscasts and newspapers, do not struggle as to what you are or want to be called; they have set words that they use for particular crimes; these words or descriptions might not describe your personal identity as to your victimization. They are not trying to disrespect your identity in anyway. Ultimately, you are “a victim of crime;” and it was against the law of NM.
Our agency is called the Resource Center for Victims of Violent Death. Pat and I fully realize that some people do not want to be considered a victim in that it means that they are weak and need help. We also understand that many people want to be able to “pull themselves up by their boot straps and go on;” without our help. However, our experience has proven that regardless of what we call you; murder and attempted murder can bring the strongest person to their knees; most people recover
better over time with support. Others are just so lost, sad and devastated that they want and need to be treated very gently. Remember that even at our weakest, being a survivor means strength, endurance and resiliency to survive even though there are days when you will not feel able to go on.
a) recovering quickly: able to recover quickly from setbacks and
b)elastic: able to spring back quickly into shape after being bent, stretched, or
Synonyms: hardy, strong, tough, robust, buoyant, irrepressible, spirited, resistant.
I’d say that I am now more resilient now than I was when Kevin was murdered. I have faced the most horrific thing that’s ever happened to me and learned that life changes quickly and I can endure just about anything now. Personally, I have felt moments of feeling squashed by this experience; I like that word!
This is like being a hamster in a wheel; it all means that you are a victim of crime who was deliberately and excessively wronged by someone else, and that the words used by the people you are dealing with may not fully understand or honor the impact on you or your family nor how you feel about your ability to deal with the tragedy or recovery you are facing. As you go through this journey and you live through every part of it, you are surviving through it; therefore, you are definitely a survivor. Please just let us know which description you would like for us to use as we speak with you so that we are honoring your feelings and beliefs.
I can certainly tell you that I am a victim of murder who has been taught and supported by many to become a strong survivor. It hasn’t been easy, it has changed who I am today and given me a desire to help others in their journeys. Our hope here at the Resource Center is to assist you anywhere in your victimization so that in the end, wherever that may be, that you will have learned enough positive coping skills to live the rest of your life as a strong survivor.