Lieutenant Olivia Benson. Most know her as the badass with a heart who's graced our television screens for seventeen years - but to me, she was so much more. To me, she was my shield and my savior; my hero and my friend. And I can say with thorough conviction that I owe my life to her.
She may never be more than a character on television in many of your eyes, but I would beg to differ - what I witness on Wednesday nights is how the talented writers of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit bring Olivia Benson to life. And, indeed, their telling of Olivia's life has invariably shaped mine for the better. She has engendered change in my very growth and being in so many different ways, and I can hardly count the times she has transcended the confines of a fictional nature to guide me.
It only seems fit that I pass these lessons on, in the hope that they will touch your hearts just as they did mine.
Her first lesson to me: "By keeping quiet, you're giving him power over you."
Two years ago at the age of fourteen, Olivia Benson spoke to me for the first time. For months following the most traumatic period of my life, I had taken up silence as my sword to protect me from further abuse - and only as I heard these words did I realize there was an alternative to the darkness. I feared that if I spoke up about the assaults, my voice would be disregarded due to my youth; in my eyes, the blame resided with me for so readily allowing myself to be hurt.
That brought me to her next lesson: "It's not your fault. What happened to you, it doesn't make you the monster."
And it was so true. Listening to Olivia, her voice of authority changed my unhealthy mindset entirely. Why should I have to bear the burden of blame - for not saying 'no,' for being too slutty, for being weak - when the real monsters were the men who had hurt me? Those thoughts were easy to think, but my heart still held an overwhelming sense of dirtiness that inhibited my recovery.
But Olivia had her influence here, too: "You survived the abuse. You can survive the recovery."
Throughout my fighting journey, these words could not have resounded with me more. Some days, I hated the world for making me suffer: I hated this society that allowed the degradation of young girls; I hated the fear that kept me silent. I hated the perpetrators of such crimes, and how they always seemed to get away with it. But, above all, I hated myself for what I was - a victim.
What Olivia taught me was that the most difficult fight had already passed me by. In hindsight, this lesson should have been far easier to believe - my abusers had not given me a choice in what they would make me into, but now I had the choice in the person I could become.
Despite my reticence, Olivia Benson was invariably there for me. She said: "Some things you can put behind you, but they do change you."
I couldn't detach myself from my past, but soon I realized that things didn't always have to go back to the way they were before. I asked myself: why should I want to? Before the trauma, before the abuse, I was still a scared little girl. And as a member of many marginalized communities, I truly believed I was predisposed to vulnerability - what was more, I held an immovable acceptance of my identity as a victim.
Since Olivia's words, I have let my bad experiences change me for the better. Though I am a victim, I am a surviving one; I have been scared, but the trauma took bravery for me to endure. I have been hurt, but I am not bitter - such a simple lesson, but such an important one.
The last thing Olivia Benson taught me: "Once you tell your story, it can be empowering."
This is why I'm here. Yes, I was a victim - but now I am a SURVIVOR.