The girls says she didn’t want to have sex. The guys says she was all over him. The girl says she was drugged. The guy says she was drinking heavy all night. Maybe there is evidence that the girl had sex with the guy, or maybe there isn’t. She says rape, he says no way. Who is right?
Popular nonfiction author Jon Krakauer investigates the issue in Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town. Missoula is home to the University of Montana, devoted to their Grizzly football team. Thus Krakauer weaves the magical protection afforded to football players who are accused of rape. The stories of two college girls who name football players as their rapists form the main narrative threads of the book. It would be a cautionary tale for the college-bound, but the lessons remain clouded by the biases of the media and the college’s investment in its football team. Obvious important issues, such as the ability to give consent when semi-conscious, are brushed aside with some variation of, “She asked for it.”
Laurie Halse Anderson dives into the painful emotional aftermath of rape in her 1999 debut novel, Speak. High school freshman Melinda is rolled inside herself after she is raped by a popular older boy at a summer party. Her immediate instinct – call the police – resulted in the party’s break-up. While everyone knows that Melinda called the police, they believe it was to purposefully end the party. Melinda herself is so traumatized that she can’t even speak. Anderson’s deeply moving and disturbing novel won her accolades, winning one of the very first Printz Honor Book awards in 2000. Through Melinda, readers learn that the validity of a rape claim is too often judged by the accuser’s physical attractiveness and social standing. A hot and popular guy would not need to have sex with a lowly freshman, thus her accusation must be based on Melinda’s own wishful thinking.
A recent novel published for adults considers the potential for long-term consequences of rape. The Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll introduces the somewhat despicable Ani when she is twenty-eight years old. An unapologetic snob, Ani is all about appearances; impressive job, expensive clothes, and a desirable, rich fiance. Readers quickly realize that Ani is compensating for her internal torment, a sense of worthlessness tied to events in youth. In alternating chapters, Ani returns to her fourteen-year-old self, attending a prestigious high school where she attempts to fit in with the popular crowd. It is not a happy time. The novel is dark, dealing with damaged sexuality in ways that many teen readers would find disturbing. But it clearly illustrates the trauma of rape as it may resonate throughout a victim’s life.
A new nonfiction book tackles the issue of rape with straightforward language and well-researched facts. Kate Harding’s Asking for It: The alarming rise of rape culture – and what we can do about it argues that in present day America the burden of proof still lies heavily on the victim. The reports of victims are scrutinized, and readily dismissed with irrelevant information, such as former sexual behavior or the social value of the accused. Presumably reasonable people still think of “assault rape” as true rape, while “date rape” is generally just morning-after regret. Harding’s strong voice will inspire some and anger others, but there is no denying the timeliness of her work.
— Diane Colson, currently reading Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pitre
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