Sexual Assault in Lit Week: Perks of Being A Wallflower

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

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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.

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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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