While this sensitive topic has been more widely discussed as of late, it is still a very real, very concealed problem. Sexual assault has been discussed in many different avenues over the years—most notably, in films—but it’s rarely ever focused on the core of the problem, the consequences of the attacker, and, above all, the vicious aftermath the victim faces. Lately though, novels in particular have finally been focusing on the latter.
Novels may have been addressing this problem for decades, but now it isn’t so much about keeping what happened behind closed doors—it’s about bringing it to the public and shining a light on the short and long-term consequences for the victims. We’re not talking about possible pregnancy or STDs—the almost more detrimental effects are the emotional scars from confusion and guilt to shaming and bullying, sometimes resulting in suicide. And even though it’s 2017, the themes are hardly going without controversy. But rewind to a quarter of a century ago, and you would be surprised to know that the tip of the iceberg had barely been breached.
For example, in 1992, Dorothy Allison published her debut semi-autobiographical novel Bastard Out of Carolina, a book that tackles multiple sensitive subjects, sexual assault and rape being two of them. She received a lot of attention for her novel, sometimes not all positive.
“The first ten lies they tell you in high school.
Speak up for yourself—we want to know what you have to say.”
In 1999, Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel Speak addressed the very serious issue of teen rape. This novel also explores the difficulty in being a young woman in high school and the fear that comes along with being a victim of sexual assault. Speaking up about something so personal isn’t easy, especially when people don’t want to listen. This novel is now a best-seller and has been used in classrooms to help students find a way to speak up. And in the past few years, there have been more resources than ever—but people are still afraid to speak out.
Young Adult fiction has been addressing serious issues for many years, and two other novels stand out involving sexual assault and abuse. Such A Pretty Girl by Laura Weiss was released in 2007 and confronts the topic of abuse from a parent. In 2008, Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott was released, addressing the issue of kidnapping and twists with a tale of one girl deciding the fate of another.
Netflix just recently debuted their new TV series “Thirteen Reasons Why,” based on the novel by Jay Asher that deals with bullying, rape, and teen suicide. The series also raises points on a prominent theme in sexual assault – victim blaming. This is something that happens far too frequently, from newspapers to interrogations. Women have been asked questions such as, “What were you wearing?” and “Did you speak with him to encourage his actions?” to hint that the assault was encouraged or warranted in some way. A large percent of sexual assault cases on college campuses go unreported because the victims fear that they will not be heard and that nothing good will come of speaking out. Victim blaming and refusing to believe the survivors is an awful stigma, and books and shows like the ones released above, receiving a lot of media attention, are calling for this type of mentality to stop.
There is still a long way to go when it comes to raising awareness for sexual assault and making the survivors feel safe and heard.
At SparkPress, our own Carl Sever has written a novel, Alphonse (June 2017), that deals with the manipulation and sexual abuse of children from higher authority figures. He addresses how this has a lasting impact physically and emotionally on the boy as he struggles to find his place in the world. Sexual abuse has a devastating impact on victims of all ages, but it is especially traumatizing for children. It can lead to many emotional scars and cause anger, self-destructive behaviors, and problems with trust and seeing their own body in a positive light as they get older. It can also cause a twisted view of love and trust in those that are close to you, especially when the abuser was familiar.
Also in 2017, BookSparks client Amy Hatvany released a new novel titled It Happens All the Time that deals with a seemingly normal friendship between two people who were best friends throughout adolescence, and one night things escalate into something more. Her novel tackles sexual dynamics between men and women, and the essential topic of consent.
“You asked for it, I told myself. If you hadn’t acted like such a slut, it never would have happened. It didn’t matter that my parents kept telling me that I should report him to the police, because I felt certain that anyone who listened to all the details of what went down would assume that I had wanted to have sex. They’d judge me.”
This is not an uncommon thought, nor an uncommon mindset among many young women who are the victims of sexual assault. These young women need to be heard, they need to be listened to and empowered, instead of feeling guilty and making themselves believe that even though they said NO, they encouraged it and they are the only ones to blame.
This year, the national Sexual Assault Awareness Month campaign, or SAAM for short, is titled “Engaging New Voices”, targeted towards coaches, faith leaders, parents, Greek Life, and bystanders to help prevent sexual assault. Many groups are aware of sexual assault but are unsure of what they can do to help prevent it. There are many ways you can help. Check them out by visiting their website.