From Bloomingdale library tragedy comes a family of survivors

By Ernest Hooper, Metro Columnist

River of Life Christian Center will sponsor a 5K run Saturday at Riverview High School to benefit the Bloomingdale Library Survivor.

Those last three words made me stand and cheer. They reflect a family's success in seizing control of its suffering.

"Our family is requesting that in all future references to our daughter you refer to her as the Bloomingdale Library Survivor," according to a recent media release. "Neither she nor our family look at ourselves as victims anymore, we are all survivors. Yes, we suffered a major physical blow to our daughter and our family but our spirits were not broken.

"Indeed, the spirits in our family united with thousands in our community and brought us blessings beyond comprehension."

I so welcome this change. From a dinner in Carrollwood to a fashion show in Tampa to a barbecue in Ruskin, the way folks stepped up to help this young woman revealed true heart.
They selflessly raised money to purchase a hyperbaric chamber and help cover other medical expenses.

Yet these uncommon goodwill efforts always had to be tinged with "Bloomingdale library victim."

The reference invariably harkened back to the unjust night of horror she endured in April 2008.
She went to the Bloomingdale library to return books, but was raped, beaten and left to die by a teenager who was later convicted and sentenced to 65 years in prison.

The young woman can no longer walk, talk, see or eat on her own, but the family says she is improving every day. She communicates through widening her eyes, smiling and clenching her fists.

The ugly incident that preceded this triumph over tragedy shouldn't be erased from our memories, but I wanted another reference. Instead of returning to the evil of the incident, why not use nomenclature that illuminates her will, the family's perseverance and the community's care?

Why not use her name?

My colleagues reminded me why the Times and nearly all media outlets choose not to use the names of sexual assault victims without their permission.

Even in the 21st century, sexual assault crimes can unfairly carry a stigma that attaches to the victims. As a society, we should have evolved to the point where we realize these are heinous acts of violence, and the victims should feel no shame.

I'm not sure, however, we've reached that point.

Unless victims choose to grant use of their names - some do - we err on the side of
caution and don't print them.

It's the right call.

"You in the news media have a difficult job," the family stated in the release. "Reporting sensational stories while respecting the privacy of the parties involved is not easy. We want to thank you for your dedication to be considerate to those of us who have experienced tragedies in our lives; however, we no longer want to be labeled as victims.

"We Are Survivors."

The survivors remain grateful for all the help they have received. The family characterizes the outpouring of support, warmth and prayers as a "life-altering experience" and says nothing compares to how the Christian community has come to its assistance.

"We are blessed," the family wrote in the release. "Our angel is alive and well and healing more and more every day and we give God all the glory."

I'm inspired by that quote. Now we have the term that better reflects how this young lady has united a community in ways we never imagined: Bloomingdale Library Survivor.

To me, however, she simply will be angel. Our angel.

That's all I'm saying.

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