Oct 8, 2015

The representation of sexual harassment in YA

Phone Wallpaper credit goes to Hazel @ Stay Bookish

Sexual harassment, abuse and rape have always been sensitive concepts when it comes to their portrayal in literature - especially in YA. Sometimes, authors deal with it brilliantly and some make a huge blunder with how they portray it. Recently, I read Faking Normal - which fell under the first category, and wanted to discuss my thoughts on the representation of the concept in question in YA.

Before I start the post, let me confess one thing. This is going to be from a victim's point of view. In case you don't know already, I've been sexually abused for some time when I was 13. My pre teen years were super dark and depressing, and I've talked all about it before in this post 

So as a reader who has first hand experience with the concept, let me tell you why I think the portrayal of it in YA is important, how to do it right and the books which have done it right.


Let me tell you a small true story here. When I was 13, and was going through all that horrible shit, I didn't confess it to my parents. I let it happen.

Because, not every victim's mentality will be the same. And there should be forces that should make one come to terms with what has happened to them, to speak up, to confess and to take a step forward. To me, that force was books. When I read Just Listen by Sarah Dessen at 13, I knew that I had to talk about what's going on with somebody. And I did. To this date, I am thankful to Sarah Dessen and her books in a huge way because of this.

The correct representation of sexual harassment, rape culture and experiences of a victim is really important. Especially in YA books which will create a huge awareness since it has a vast audience,

More than that, it is needed because YA has a huge reach, worldwide. Did you know that I am part of a community which actually encourages rapists to marry their victims? Or that no one understands the concept of date rape or a husband raping his wife because they believe it's a man's right? If a girl is raped because she went out in the night or was wearing revealing clothes the society actually blames her for her part in it?

I know this sounds horrifying, but it is the reality. And what's even more scary is the fact that most of the girls and boys of my own age actually accept this and doesn't find anything wrong with the practice.


But at the same time, handling it in a wrong way is really offensive and insensitive in my opinion. Sexual harassment is clearly a sensitive subject, and it needs to be dealt in a careful way. Here are a few things that makes me boil in anger.

  1. An attempt of sexual harassment to show the heroine's allure. WTH??? I get really mad when an attempt of rape is used a plot device to tell the readers that the MC is beautiful and attractive. Let me tell you this, rape never makes you feel attractive. It makes you feel like you're ugly and disgusting. It makes you want to don all full sleeves and cover your face because you're disgusted with yourself. 
  2. To show the love interest's heroism. How many times have we seen the guy rushing to the scenario when the heroine is about to get harassed, like a knight in shining armor trying to save the damsel in distress showing his valiant heart and bravery! This makes me want to vomit! I mean, can't they use any other way to show this? For a moment think about what would have happened to the girl if the guy wasn't there at the right time? *shudders*
  3. She was asking for it. Let me tell you one thing. If a girl was already sleeping around, wearing indecent clothes, or let half of it happen and then said no, or she was the rapist's girlfriend, a no is a no and no one asks to be raped. Period.
  4. Slut shaming. This gets on my nerves! First of all, I hate people who judge. Second, even if a girl had sex with her own consent or was forced into it, what is your problem? What's the whole point in calling her names, ridiculing her or bitching about her?
  5. A character I am supposed to like partaking in sexual assault. This is a clear NO from my side. To me, sexual assault is the worst mistake someone can ever do, and I personally can't forgive such a character, no matter how much they try to redeem themselves.

So what should be included? Let me make a list for that too.

  1. It takes some time and a lot of inner debates for a victim to come to terms with what has happened. For some it's days, for some weeks and months, and for some, it even takes years to speak up. And even if they've finally decided to do it, there's a huge conflict on who to tell and how to start. There will be a lot of inner debates, and it will be painful.
  2. They start to hate their physical appearance. Like I said above, you start to hate everything about you. Especially appearance wise. The need to crash the mirror whenever you look at it is fierce.
  3. Self concept. They start to think about their own part in the rape. They start to doubt whether they are "unclean" and "impure". Trust me, this is the worst feeling ever in life, and I went through this phase for a whole year!
  4. Their viewpoints of men change. And no, they don't start to hate all men or something, but they start to trust them less. Especially the assault was done by someone who's close to them or a person they used to trust.

Books which did it right.

Here are some of my favourite books which handled the concept perfectly.

  1. Just Listen by Sarah Dessen. I'll be grateful for this book all my life. This book talks about the importance of listening to the inner voice inside you. To speak up, even though most of the world will alienate you.
  2. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. A similar concept to Just listen, Speak talks about the aftermath of a rape. And most of all, the consequences of speaking up.
  3. Easy by Tammara Webber. A beautiful book about how hard it is to confess if the offender is someone close to you, a friend of a friend and a generally liked person. Most of all, what touched me in a large way in this book, is that it told that just because a girl isn't actually raped, doesn't mean that she isn't harassed or assaulted. Any kind of sexual and non consentual act against someone IS sexual assault, and this needs to be often told in YA.
  4. Faking Normal by Courtney C.Stevens. This book is all about self concept. The inner conflict inside a rape victim is beautifully portrayed in this book. If a girl "let it happen" does that excuse the rapist's crime? This conflict was something I went through of my own, so this book touched me in a great way that I was left sobbing for a whole night.

And since I have awesome twitter friends, here's some recommendations, given by my lovely followers.

  • All the Rage
  • What We Saw
  • Going Under
  • Canary
  • Uses for Boys
  • Identical
  • Pointe
  • Little Peach
  • Every Last Promise
  • If You Find Me
  • Where the Stars Still Shine
  • Finding Paris
  • Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • The Way I Used To Be ( Upcoming)
  • The Fix
  • Some Boys
  • Fault Line

What do you think about the portrayal of sexual assault in YA? Do you think it's necessary? Have you read any book that talk about it?

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