Sexual Assault in Lit Week: Reading & Sex Relations

The more you read and the more diverse the books you’re reading are, the more you grow as both a person and a reader. I can honestly say that I’m not the same reader I was in middle school, high school and now in my final year at a post-secondary institution. This became evident while reading some books where the behaviours that I once saw as romantic and appropriate in high school are now behaviours that I see as troublesome.

I’m talking about the way in which the bad boy is romanticized when he takes agency and choice away from the female protagonist or when abuse (physical, emotional and/or verbal) is used as a form of control especially in the context of sexual relationships that lead into territories of sexual assault. In high school, I thought sexual assault was just rape where you’re forced to have intercourse by a stranger. I found out in University that not only does sexual assault happen more frequently by someone you know (stranger danger is actually rare) but the definitions of sexual assault and rape are more than what I initially thought and aren’t interchangeable.

Dictionary.com

dictionary.com 1

Definitions are from Dictionary.com

The important thing you need to understand about either definition is that in order for it to be consensual (where both parties agree to participate) there needs to be INFORMED CONSENT. Informed meaning that BOTH parties need to be consciously giving consent which means that they can’t be impaired when giving consent. Consent meaning that they must verbally agree to participate so

  • a non-answer is not an answer
  • a no doesn’t magically become a yes
  • an underage person is not in a position to give consent at all so let’s not even consider that
  • sexual advances by a person of power (like a teacher or boss) is a no-no because saying no becomes harder when they are in a position to threaten you with unemployment or grades
  • and the obvious being that one person is physically threatening another with bodily harm or/and death is definitely NOT consent

Why am I writing about this? Well, February is Sexual Assault Month and after exploring the wonderful blog called Sexual Violence in YA Lit (and Life), I wanted to do my part in being a part of the conversation. Myself and fellow blogger, Christa over at More Than Just Magic, are taking this week to explore sexual assault and violence in YA Lit (as well as in comics) so that the discussion lives on and that, hopefully, others are informed. Here is the schedule for the posts:

  • Monday: A. A. Omer
  • Tuesday: More Than Just Magic
  • Wednesday: More Than Just Magic
  • Thursday: A. A. Omer
  • Friday: A. A. Omer & More Than Just Magic

Feel free to participate by leaving comments on the posts.

A. A. Omer

Books

Sexual Assault in Lit Week Wrap-Up

Books

Christa has done a wonderful wrap up post on her blog that you check out here. We also talked about Dean Trippe’s Something Terrible as well in regards to those who were sexually abused as children and the misconception that the abused becomes the abuser. Here are the resources available to sexual assault survivors that was included in the post that I’d also like to pass along:

If you’ve been sexually assaulted and need help, or just someone to talk to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) runs the National Sexual Abuse Helpline. Call 1.800.656.HOPE and you will be directed to counsellor at your nearest RAINN member centre. Every call remains confidential unless YOU choose otherwise.

Since Ardo and I are both Canadian bloggers we wanted to share some Canadian resources as well. Here are some options:

Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres
604-876-2622 (p) / 604-876-8450 (f)
www.casac.ca / headoffice@casac.ca

Sexual Assault /Domestic Violence Care Centre
905-525-4573 ℗ / 905-525-4162 (hotline)
sadvcarecentre@hhsc.ca

Ottawa Rape Crisis Center
613-562-2334 (p) / 613-562-2333 (hotline)

Toronto Rape Crisis Centre
(416) 597-1171 (hotline) / www.trccmwar.ca

Montreal Rape Crisis Centre
514-934-0354 (p) / 514-934-4504 (hotline)

If you’re under eighteen you can also contact the Kids Help Phone – which is free, confidential and available 24/7. Their number is

1-800-668-6868

If you’re not in Canada OR the US RAINN has an entire list of International Resources on their website. 

I’d like to thank Christa for helping me plan this week as well as writing some of the posts. She contacted me to get involved which just shows how awesome she is and her passion of discussing issues in the things we read and consume. I want to once again give Sexual Violence in YA Lit (and Life) a shout out for spurring this week here at the blog. It’s run by Karen Jensen, Christa Desir, Carrie Mesrobian and Trish Doller

A. A. Omer

Something Terrible Cover

Sexual Assault in Lit Week: Something Terrible

I read, write and talk about books all the time which isn’t a surprise considering the blog I’ve created but I’m also a huge fan of comics and graphic novels. I thought it would be cool to have a day that looked at the topic of sexual assault in the context of comics and I wanted to use Dean Trippe’s mini comic: Something Terrible.

Something Terrible Cover

Something Terrible is about Dean Trippe who, at six years old, was sexually assaulted by teenage boy. The comic takes us through Dean’s journey dealing with the emotional trauma of the event and hardly any dialogue is present which places the burden of the storytelling on the art work. Trippe’s art is so powerful and so emotive that the burden feels lightweight as the reader is taken on this journey that will either give fellow survivors something that can understand their own pain or educate and give people like me a look into this issue. We learn while reading the comic that the 1989 Batman film introduced Batman’s origin story (he watched his parents get murdered in front of him as a child) to Dean for the first time which really resonated with him.

Batman

I started writing Something Terrible a little over a year ago, after a conversation with my friend, Ben, in which I offered my own secret origin to explain my dislike of crazy/broken depictions of Batman. I feel like Bruce Wayne would’ve gone crazy if he hadn’t become a bat. He need an outlet for his pain. He had only a child’s solution to an unsolvable problem: He became a superhero.

I wrote a little bit about boys and sexual assault and Trippe talks about that as well in his Afterword which is a fantastic read. Trippe also talks about the misconception that the abused become the abuser which isn’t true and that most abusers aren’t even victims themselves.

Something Terrible 1  Something Terrible 2

I think it’s important to keep that in mind when watching television programs that say otherwise and, as we’ve learned all week long, there are so many misconceptions out there regarding sexual assault. Something Terrible as a title doesn’t only reflect what happened to Dean but also what he’s afraid is inside him due to those misconceptions. I hope that, by reading this post, the comic will get a signal boost so that more people can become moved, informed and spurred into acquiring more information on the subject. I want this knowledge to be paid forward so that maybe we can all be a little less removed for the things others suffer.

You can read the comic here for free but I suggest purchasing it so you can have access to the Afterword I mentioned before.

A. A. Omer

Perksofbeingwallflower1

Sexual Assault in Lit Week: Perks of Being A Wallflower

This post is filled with spoilers. You’ve been warned.

The-Perks-of-Being-a-Wallflower-poster1

I actually saw the film adaptation of Perks of Being A Wallflower at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) months before I read it. I went in with zero idea what it was about outside of the incredibly vague film description in the program. By the end of the film, my cheeks were wet with tears and I was an emotional wreck. I rarely cry while watching a movie.

Perksofbeingwallflower1

I decided to read the original book version for this week because of the specific approach it has to sexual assault and abuse but before we delve into that, here’s a synopsis:

Charlie is a freshman.

And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it.

Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mix tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But he can’t stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

There are several instances of sexual assault and abuse that occur in the book and they all involve people that the victims/survivors know. Chbosky did a wonderful job at diversifying the different situations of assault and his decision to make them non-strangers is consistent with the statistics which state that you’re more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone you know than a stranger.

Told to us via Charlie’s journal, we get four instances of sexual assault.

  • The first takes place during a party at Charlie’s house years prior, thrown by his older brother, where a popular couple goes into Charlie’s room and have sex while he’s still in it. The girl continually says no before finally becoming silent through the whole thing. Not once did her boyfriend respect her wish. As Charlie tells Sam and Patrick this story, it dawns on him that the girl was raped and it took him that long to realize it because it wasn’t the cookie cutter image of how rape occurs. There was no dark alley and there wasn’t a hooded stranger. When Charlie asks Sam if they should tell someone, she says no and explains “all the things you have to go through to prove it, especially in high school when the boy and a girl are popular and still in love.”
  • The second instance involved Sam. She tells Charlie that her first kiss was with her dad’s friend when she was seven years old. This is brought up when Charlie states that he’s never kissed a girl before and Sam uses it to explain why she wants to kiss him. Not because she wants this to go beyond friendship but because she wants the first person he kisses to be someone who loves him.
  • The third instance involves his aunt Helen. “I will not say who. I will not say when. I will just say that my aunt Helen was molested. I hate that word. It was done by someone who was very close to her. I was not her dad. She finally told her dad. He didn’t believe her because of who it was. A friend of the family. That made it worse. My grandma never said anything either. And the man kept coming over for visits.

If you’re in a sexual relationship with someone, it is assumed that it isn’t rape if you’ve already had sex with that person. This isn’t true. Every sexual encounter needs informed consent even in marriages or committed relationships. As I stated in another post, sexual encounters with minors are seen as sexual assault because they aren’t in a position to give informed consent. One of the reasons why sexual assaults are the most under reported crimes is because of rape culture but what’s interesting about rape culture is that it also affects male victims of sexual assault.

Perks of Being a Wallflower: Boys and Sexual Assault

By the end of the book, you realize that Charlie’s aunt Helen molested him when he was child. She died in car crash when he was still little and Charlie was able to somehow block out that entire experience but we find out that Charlie’s anxieties and issues throughout the book were a result of that trauma. I rarely read about sexual assault involving male victims in lit but I do know that there are these beliefs that men can’t get raped or sexually assaulted and that isn’t true. Women are far more likely to get sexually assaulted but there is a percentage of men who do experience it too if the Maple Leaf Gardens sex scandal is any indication.

Sexually based violence is about violence and not about sex. It’s a way of exerting power over another individual so one’s sexual preference has nothing to do with the act itself which is one of the misconceptions of male sexual violence against other males (that the perpetrator is homosexual).

Victims of sexual assault come in all shapes and sizes which is why I wanted to have a post on this book. Please pick it up and give it a read. It’s wonderfully written and very insightful.

A. A. Omer

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Sexual Assault in Lit Week: Some Girls Are/Cracked Up To Be

This post is filled with spoilers. You’ve been warned.

I’ve always wanted to read a Courtney Summers book because of all the positive things I’ve heard on her writing, characters and the issues she tackles. I read This Is Not A Test and enjoyed it a lot because of the complicated female protagonist who didn’t fit into the cookie cutter mold of being “likable” nor should she for the crap she’s gone through. I decided to read her two other books, Some Girls Are and Cracked Up To Be, for Sexual Assault in Lit Week.

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In both Some Girls Are and Cracked Up To Be, you have sexual assault occurring as part of the main plot (more evident in Some Girls Are and more subtle in Cracked Up Up To Be). What links these two books together is the theme of the bystander/witness. Those who failed to report rape that they’ve witnessed or are made aware of as seen with the characters of Kara (Some Girls Are) and Parker (Cracked Up To Be).

CRACKED UP TO BE:

When “Perfect” Parker Fadley starts drinking at school and failing her classes, all of St. Peter’s High goes on alert. How has the cheerleading captain, girlfriend of the most popular guy in school, consummate teacher’s pet, and future valedictorian fallen so far from grace?

Parker doesn’t want to talk about it. She’d just like to be left alone, to disappear, to be ignored. But her parents have placed her on suicide watch and her conselors are demanding the truth. Worse, there’s a nice guy falling in love with her and he’s making her feel things again when she’d really rather not be feeling anything at all.

Nobody would have guessed she’d turn out like this. But nobody knows the truth.

Something horrible has happened, and it just might be her fault.

In Cracked Up To Be, Parker goes from being the perfect student, girlfriend and daughter to drinking at school, dumping her boyfriend, stepping down as cheerleading captain and just wanting to be left alone. Throughout the book, readers are trying to figure out why this dramatic shift in Parker has happened while also getting subtle mentions of her best friend, Jessie, who’s been missing. We later find out that Parker, intoxicated, witnessed Jessie getting raped at a party right before going missing. She carries her secret right up until they find Jessie’s body months later when Parker finally admits it to Jessie’s boyfriend, Evan.

What makes this such an interesting story is its angle on sexual assault where it isn’t from the perspective of the individual who experienced the event first hand but the person who witnessed it. Parker doesn’t tell the police about the rape when Jessie first goes missing due to her shame but instead decides to carry the weight of it and pushing others away in order to protect them from herself. As readers, you can’t help BUT like Parker in the way that she’s written as a witty and amusing character which I think is a genius approach by Summers because Parker is trying to push people away including readers but we can’t help it. We want to hang out with her.

Parker also exhibits weird ticks like snapping her fingers constantly when experiencing anxiety or cutting the hair she was once so obsessed with brushing when Evan came back to school. The death of her Bailey marks a turning point for Parker especially given her attempts at trying to not get close to the dog only to have his death re-enforce this belief in her that she hurts people by association. As Kelly at Lost at Midnight Reviews mentions:

Parker falls apart. Completely. If we thought we was messed up in the beginning of the book, then it’s taken to another level now. Like I said before, it’s no longer about Parker wanting to stay away from people, it’s that she’s unable to get close to them. Even when she wants to, like with Jake, she can’t really bring herself to. Parker has officially lost control of her life. She no longer has comebacks to everything. She can no longer even finish her sentences half the time.

I don’t think this story could be told as effectively if Parker wasn’t someone who was obsessed with perfection only to have something terrible happen when she finally let loose. It wouldn’t be as gripping if she wasn’t on the pedestal of popularity in order to fall as fast and hard as she did and for everyone to notice. Summers takes a different approach to her novel, Some Girls Are, which I find equally interesting.

SOME GIRLS ARE

Climbing to the top of the social ladder is hard—falling from it is even harder. Regina Afton used to be a member of the Fearsome Fivesome, an all-girl clique both feared and revered by the students at Hallowell High… until vicious rumors about her and her best friend’s boyfriend start going around. Now Regina’s been “frozen out” and her ex-best friends are out for revenge. If Regina was guilty, it would be one thing, but the rumors are far from the terrifying truth and the bullying is getting more intense by the day. She takes solace in the company of Michael Hayden, a misfit with a tragic past who she herself used to bully. Friendship doesn’t come easily for these onetime enemies, and as Regina works hard to make amends for her past, she realizes Michael could be more than just a friend… if threats from the Fearsome Foursome don’t break them both first.

Tensions grow and the abuse worsens as the final days of senior year march toward an explosive conclusion in this dark new tale from the author of Cracked Up To Be

Regina gets sexually assaulted by her best friend’s boyfriend in the very first chapter of the book and her decision to go to Kara for comfort and advice on what she should do dictates the rest of the story. First off, Summers did a wonderful job at having the survivor of sexual assault be someone who isn’t inherently a good guy. By good guy, I obviously mean it in the ideal sense that we often encounter in YA lit and adult as well. Regina is part of a group of bullies in her school which makes us dislike her immediately (especially with what they do to Liz Cooper) but the questions readers should ask themselves and what Summers is asking of readers is, does that matter when she’s been sexually assaulted?

The answer should be no and I hope that others walk away thinking that too because no one deserves to be sexually assaulted. Period.

What I found interesting in reading this book was Kara. Kara represents what I feel is the general belief that what you get in life is what you deserve. Regina goes to her right after the sexual assault despite not being the greatest of friends (they hate each other) because she needs help and doesn’t for one minute think that Kara would be anything else but civil. Kara, unlike Parker, uses her position as an indirect witness to advise Regina into keeping silent about the assault only to turn around and tell her best friend, Anna, that she had consensually slept with Donnie.

I have never read such an evil character in my life.

Kara, of course, isn’t a one note character. She justifies this action and the horrible actions to come later (like when she locks Regina in a room with Donnie) by the fact that Regina was horrible to her in her role as a bully. This is a very different response to Parker’s role as a witness which is due to the relationships involved but the point of the matter is that the types of relationships shouldn’t matter. I also find it interesting that Anna, in a way, was also a witness to the assault since she was unconscious in the room when it took place. Anna, by the end of the book, starts to lose that image of being just a pawn in Kara’s revenge fantasy and Ciara says it best:

The scene ends with one of the most stunning lines of the book, in my opinion. Regina keeps trying to say how Anna is being played but Anna replies with such anger saying “Kara’s not that smart”. This lines makes me kind of question everything. Because it makes it seem like Anna knew this whole time that Kara was lying about Donnie’s attempted rape, but destroyed Regina anyways. As I was reading it again while writing this post though, I’m even questioning that. The way Anna says it so angrily, so desperately, makes me think she wants to believe in the lie. That maybe she knew but refuses to believe she could be played like that. I honestly don’t know anymore. Either way, it just proves how selfish and disgusting a person Anna is. Because even if she believe in the lie Kara told, she believed it because it benefited her.

These two books definitely give an interesting look at the third party in sexual assaults that I don’t normally see. Check out Ciara’s Courtney Summer’s Read-A-Long for great discussion posts. She delves way deeper into the many aspects of the books that I’d love to talk about. 

A. A. Omer

Where the stars still shine

Sexual Assault in Lit Week: Where the Stars Still Shine

Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

Where the stars still shine
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Genre: Contemporary
Page count: 352
Source: Purchased a copy

Release Date: September 24 2013

Stolen as a child from her large and loving family, and on the run with her mom for more than ten years, Callie has only the barest idea of what normal life might be like. She’s never had a home, never gone to school, and has gotten most of her meals from laundromat vending machines. Her dreams are haunted by memories she’d like to forget completely. But when Callie’s mom is finally arrested for kidnapping her, and Callie’s real dad whisks her back to what would have been her life, in a small town in Florida, Callie must find a way to leave the past behind. She must learn to be part of a family. And she must believe that love–even with someone who seems an improbable choice–is more than just a possibility.

Thoughts on Where the Stars Still Shine

Yesterday I talked about Canary and the effects of date rape. Where the Stars Still Shine, however, tackles sexual assault in a much different way…

For more of this post, visit More Than Just Magic