Beyond the Blurb | Addressing Sexual Assault in YA Books

 

For months, I psyched myself out of writing this post. A part of me doesn’t want to address the topic. But I’m committing more harm than good. So, for this week’s topic for my weekly/monthly discussion post, Beyond the Blurb, I want to address what the pros and cons of sexual assault in YA books are and why we need to keep talking about it.

As I write this post, I want nothing more than to delete it and keep quiet. But I can’t. Sexual assault is a difficult and intense topic to discuss. So I’ll admit this now: I’m a survivor. And my scars still haunt me. My demons still control who I am, even if I want to fight back. I will spend the rest of my life healing. So you can easily guess that sexual assault in any book is difficult for me to read. However, let me be clear: it’s 2018, and we people (and readers) need to stop ignoring assault.

So how widespread is sexual assault? Here are some US facts from Teen Help:

  • 42% of female rape victims were assaulted before they turned an adult
  • 1 in 5 men have been assaulted
  • 28% of male rape victims have been assaulted before turning 10-years-old
  • Teenagers will account for half of all reported sexual abuse
  • Teenagers (between 16 and 19) are 3.5 times more likely to be the victim

Unfortunately, many assaults will go unreported. Our society has allowed predators to go free because victims must “think about the impact of the accused,” there “isn’t enough evidence to prove it,” or the “accused isn’t credible enough.” But we don’t think about the repercussions of the survivor. So when you see these statistics, we cannot keep ignoring the issue. So I commend YA authors addressing assault in their books. But here are the reasons why writing about it is so important for survivors and possible future victims:

It shows the survivors that they aren’t alone

You don’t know how crucial this point is for survivors. When they’re assaulted, they’re isolated and feel as if no one will understand their pain, shame, fear, and anger. But they aren’t. As much as 50% of all women will be assaulted. Let that number sink in. We all know that literature often reflects our society. So a character’s story may show them they truly aren’t alone.

It creates a platform for survivors to finally talk about their assault

One reason why survivors never report their assault is due to the shame they face. Sexual assault kits and procedures are invasive and can possibly revictimize them. But when they are given the opportunity to open up and to address their past, you give them the chance to heal. If a character who was assaulted opens up about their pain, that choice may give survivors the strength to come forward.

It allows them to cope with their assault

For years, I wanted to ignore my past. I didn’t want to acknowledge it. If I did, then I’d have to admit that I was assaulted. But when more character arcs addressed sexual assault, I was able to open that door, let out my pain, and finally cope with my feelings. And I’ll forever be indebted to the authors who have helped me with my demons.

 

But when there is a positive in a situation, then you’ll always get a negative. So what are they?

The author may open up unhealed wounds or reach out to a much younger audience

You must allow survivors to come to terms in their own way. Many do not want to think about what has happened to them. And not every teenager who is the target audience for YA will face sexual assault. They may not understand yet.

The author may use sexual assault in the worst way possible

Please, authors, do not use sexual assault as a trope. It isn’t. It’s a real and dangerous life-altering event. Don’t use it as a way to make the character stronger. Because getting assaulted doesn’t make survivors strong at the beginning. They’re utterly broken. It’ll take years for them to harness that strength.

The author may have caused more harm to survivors

You cannot force survivors to confront their pain if they’re not ready. And if you do, you may hurt them more. Imagine being assaulted, then forced to deal with it. Why do you think court cases are so agonizing for them? Reliving their assault is hard enough. Being forced to remember what has happened, when all they want to do is to get lost in a book, may have negative effects on them and readers. So that’s why trigger warnings are so important. Use them.

 

So what are your thoughts on sexual assault in YA books? Do you think that including it in these books will help or hinder victims? Is it appropriate for the intended audience?

I’d love to see what you think on the matter.

22 thoughts on “Beyond the Blurb | Addressing Sexual Assault in YA Books

  1. Amazing, inspiring post Siobhan. I’m sorry you had such personal experience with this. Thank you for sharing your story and drawing attention to a topic that has been swept under the rug for too much. I agree that there are positives to including sexual assault discussions in YA. Trigger warnings are a must though. And no… it should never become a trope or used dismissively. Knowing they are not alone in their suffering can help other girls and women confront their past (or present) too.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I get mentally disturbed with a sexual assault scene. Hence I would like a trigger warning. For me, some days I skip, and some days I read. It has taken me many decades to get over my bad days.
    I am sorry you had to go through this, I am always sad that women still have to go through so many problems.
    Siobhan, I read books to escape my bad days, so I don’t want to be reminded of them in my books. It might be an escapism but books have always read my escape route. So I chose books which don’t have them.
    I read a thriller 2 years ago where the author graphic child assault and justified it saying, ‘needed for the plot’ but it was done every few pages. She said it added reality to the story. I didn’t agree with it. She blocked me on Facebook and her friends called me a fake doc and other words. After that, I have kept to safe books, and if some scene does appear, I have given a negative review for not putting a trigger warning.
    You are a strong woman Siobhan, your post doesn’t need to be deleted. When men can do it boldly, then why can we speak up. There are going to be good days and bad days. So during the bad ones, remember to breathe and tell yourself that you are strong and more than the assault. That doesn’t define you. It is not easy but that’s what makes us a survivor…
    Hope I have not offended you… I just spoke my experiences. Women are stronger than every other species. I believe so. And the men who harm us, will get punished. Karma will not leave them. Sorry if I spoke too much.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I honestly don’t judge for doing that. And I don’t blame you. Some readers simply can’t read these scenes and books revolving around them.

      I’m sorry that happened to you! No, it wasn’t warranted. One reason why I’ll never read another King book is because of his use of child assaults.

      I hope in the future more authors and publishers will warn readers.

      Thank you for your support. And you haven’t offended me. You spoke truthfully, which I hoped readers would do. Your comment has helped 💜 Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Siobhan, this was such a great post! I totally agree with everything you said. On the one hand, I think having sexual assault in YA books can help people feel like they’re not alone (and all the other reasons you said). But on the other hand, I think it can also be really hard. A lot of people read to escape reality, and reading about sexual assault could ruin the reading experience. And I totally agree about sexual assault almost being a trope. It’s so frustrating. I think if it’s kind of the point of the book (like Speak or the Female of the Species), then having scenes or discussions of sexual assault make sense. But it should definitely be used cautiously, and readers should 100% know going into the book that there’s sexual assault in it

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for all your support!

      I think if authors warn their readers about it, then we can have an equal balance of both.

      I hate when I see it used as a trope. It honestly hurts the storyline and the readers. But I see it more and more though.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m sorry it happened to you too.

    I think we can’t ignore this topic – that will not help anyone. A warning would be useful on books / movies, so whoever doesn’t feel confronting it, can choose not to.
    Not writing, talking about it will not solve the problem. I was quite young when it happened to me the first time, and for a long time i didn’t actually realise what it was, just felt like it wasn’t right. It was never something anyone talked to me about before or i’ve seen anywhere :/

    Like

    • I’ve seen a lot of readers bring up that suggestion. And I hope for books future books that we get it. I think it’ll help survivors decide if they want to read it.

      It truly isn’t helping. I know several who have dealt with it secretly, and they still struggle. The only way we can heal is to talk about it.

      For my first attack, I experienced the same thing as you. I thought it was simply a game because I was so young. So dealing with that and the assault were hard. So I sympathize with you there. Thank you for opening up! Sending you my love. 💜

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is such an important topic, and thank you for your bravery in opening the discussion. I definitely think it is something that needs to be discussed, but I would like to see trigger warnings for it. Survivors need to heal their own way, and they may not be ready to be confronted with those feelings unexpectedly in fiction.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I’m all for the representation of sexual assault in books, ya or otherwise, as long as it isn’t used – as you mentioned – to make the character stronger because it takes YEARS to have that effect on a person. You’re broken for the longest period of time at first so if they use it as a trope, it’s just.. no, thanks.

    I’m a survivor myself – talked about it a couple of times on my blog as well – and I try reading books with sexual assault simply because it’s so important to me to have some own voice-reviews out there on those books. What works for me, what’s “acceptable” for me can be so different from someone else’s expectations. I simply have the need to share reviews like that one so we all know what we’re getting ourselves into when picking up a certain book.

    It definitely shouldn’t be glossed over either. I hate when sexual assault is used as a small sub plot to “explain” the actions of a side character. That’s another thing that drives me nuts. I haven’t seen it a lot, but I know it exists in books. Unfortunately.

    Let’s just say that it HAS to be mentioned, but in a way that’s real and honest – not in a way that feels like “abuse of someone’s actual past”, if you know what I mean. 🙂

    Amazing post, Siobhan!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are actually the reason why I wrote this post. I remember reading yours and had the idea of mine pop in my head not too long after that.

      I feel the same way. I’m hesitant, but I feel like I need to read them. Unfortunately, I’ve seen that justification as well. It doesn’t support the main plot either way.

      I totally agree with you there. If authors use it truthfully and meaningfully, then I’m support them.

      Thank you, deary! 💜

      Like

  7. This has made me question my own writing – in a good way.
    You’ve made some excellent points.
    I’ve created characters who’ve experience trauma in their past because it relates to my own experiences. The aim was to show complex, individuals who have developed for better or worse and how they navigate life with their paradigms.
    I’ll be more conscious of how I go about this in future stories.
    I think trigger warnings are a good idea, I know tv shows can trigger me for days, writing is no different.

    Liked by 1 person

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