Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Blaming the Victim

I inadvertently read three books with similar subject matter one after the other, and it was very emotionally affecting.  During that time, I also happened to come across a Book Riot interview with Laurie Halse Anderson, author of the now classic young adult novel Speak and Courtney Summers, author of All the Rage.

Both of these books deal with a high school girl who has been sexually assaulted at a party, and the problems that each of them has trying to deal with the aftermath.   Anderson's debut novel, Speak was first published in 1999, sixteen years ago.  

I knew that date rape is a real issue in colleges and universities:  in May 2014, the U.S. Department of Education released a list of 55 institutes of  higher education that have open Title IX sexual violence investigations.*  But this still-naive preacher's kid had no idea what a concern it is in young people of high school age.

In the past nine months at least four novels** have been published that deal with date rape in high school. In all of them, the victims are female; in all of them, the incident is common knowledge within the group.  

WARNING:  Spoilers abound in the following reviews.

Some Boys by Patty Blount (Sourcebooks Fire trade paperback, 5 August 2014).

This is a gripping, gut-wrenching story about Grace Collier, who drank too much at a high school party, and was raped by Zac, a popular football player.  The boy then took a photo of her on his phone and posted it on a social media site.  When she reports the assault, she is harassed and verbally abused by other students, and tacitly by teachers and other school staff.   

The only person who's kind to her is Ian, who just happens to be Zac's best friend.  They generally avoid the subject, but when it comes up, Ian makes it clear that he believes his friend.


Bet Your Life (A Jess Tennant mystery) by Jane Casey (St. Martin's Griffin hardcover, 3 February 2015).

Ever since she proved that her cousin Freya was murdered rather than having killed herself, (How to Fall) Jess hasn't felt terribly comfortable in the English seaside village of Port Sentinel, where she's been living for a months now.  

On Hallowe'en night, she stumbles across Seb Dawson, lying in the street, obviously the victim of a hit-and-run.  Nobody seems to like Seb much, and even the police don't appear to be investigating very hard, and Jess, who needs to know what happened takes it upon herself to find out.  

What she learns is pretty awful.  Seb's parents are wealthy, and not around much, so he often has wild parties at his house, where he contrives situations in which the girls are abused and  the boys are encouraged do thinks Seb can blackmail them for later.

As Jess gets closer to the truth, Seb becomes nervous enough that he tries to trap her in a burning house.


All the Rage by Courtney Summers (St. Martin's Griffin hardcover, 14 April 2015).

Another heartbreaking story of a high school girl who was raped at a party.  Romy Grey, who already has a strike against her because she's from the wrong side of town, is believed to be lying when she accuses Kellan Turner, who happens to be a policeman's son.  

Penny, her former best friend drops Romy, and though she doesn't participate in the general tormenting, she doesn't try to stop it, either.  
Romy gets a job waiting tables in another town and tries to keep the two parts of her life completely separate.  But when , Penny turns up at the diner to tell her that Kellan might have abused another girl, Romy's sense of safety vanishes.  

And so does Penny.  And since it appears that Romy was the last to see her, she becomes a suspect.


All three of the above books are, like Speak, very well-written and extremely difficult to read. But, again like Speak, they are works that should be circulated and read and reviewed, in order to bring forward a very serious issue.

*Think Progress reported that as of 7 January 2015, that number had risen to 94.

** I've only come across four so far; there may be more.

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