Nadya Sarah Domingo
August 24, 2016 6:13 pm
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Pop culture has a long tradition of portraying sexual assault victims as just that: victims. When I watched the incredibly popular Stranger Things, I was reminded of the times when I was sexually assaulted as a teenager. Although sexual assault isn’t addressed in Stranger Things, the treatment and portrayal of the female characters reminded me how it felt — and how society views victims.

Eleven, Stranger Things’ hero, spends most of her life as a human guinea pig in a science lab controlled by male scientists.

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When she refuses to submit to their horrid demands, the scientists physically and mentally torture her. Eleven’s childhood is robbed from her, and the abuse she suffers has a tremendous effect on her life.

Despite her traumatic childhood, Eleven isn’t portrayed as a one-dimensional victim. She’s not only a victim of abuse — she’s also a monster slaying, waffle-loving, fiercely loyal human being who can make bullies pee their pants.

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Nancy Wheeler — whose photo is taken without her consent as she undresses—is more than her experiences of public slut-shaming.

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Both of these characters are complex and strong: two attributes that victims of abuse and sexual violence are seldom afforded in the media.

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Sexual assault marks you in many insidious, unshakeable ways — but one of the worst parts of the aftermath is the way society treats you. For years after my sexual assault, I stayed silent. I grew ashamed and fearful of how my family and friends would view me if they ever found out.

When I started opening up to friends about what had happened to me, I noticed a pattern: some folks looked at me as though the word “victim” was written in all-caps on my forehead from that moment on. While the worried looks may come from a good place, I know some people think of me as a victim — and nothing more.

But I’m also lucky to have a family who supported me once I finally told them that I had been assaulted. My mom, my boyfriend, and my grandparents treated me differently after I told them — but in a good way. After opening up to them, they understood why I am the way that I am, and they shower me with care. Better yet, they see that I’m a good student, a pop culture fanatic, and a writing geek — the things that make me human — despite my traumatic experiences.

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While it’s important to have supportive and understanding people in your life, it’s also nice to have role models in the media.

I found the most meaningful aspect of Stranger Things was that Eleven and Nancy could be both victims and powerful human beings. The show proves that being both a fully-formed person with agency and a victim of assault are not mutually exclusive.

It’s an important life lesson for any sexual assault survivor — and for society at large. And it took me almost 10 years to learn. Being a victim of sexual assault doesn’t make me a strong person — I always was one.

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