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.