SERIESous Discussion: Not Reporting Assaults in Novels

SERIESous Discussions: Every once and awhile I will post my random ramblings about a bookish or blogging topic. Feel free to join in by making a comment below or linking back!

I got inspired to write this post after reading a particular book (which I won’t name because it is a bit of a spoiler but I will vaguely recap the situation). After a scene where the heroine is sexually assaulted in the novel and decides not to press charges, I got really upset.

Here are some statistics:

From Statistics Canada:

  • Of every 100 incidents of sexual assault, only 6 are reported to the police
  • 1 in 4 North American women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime
  • 11% of women have physical injury resulting for sexual assault

And a lot of women don’t report it because:

Some felt young and powerless, or ashamed, or they blamed themselves or just wanted to move on. Many felt reporting would do little good.

(Global News Article)

That’s an unfortunate fact of sexual assaults and one that has been the focus of change for years. However, things don’t seem to be changing anytime soon.

So why are assaults rarely reported in fictional novels?

While I’m a firm believer in letting fiction be fiction, I also think it can be a vehicle to start discussions. But I’m very alarmed by the  “letting it go without consequences” trend I’ve been reading in novels lately.

See, in the book I was reading when I was inspired to write this post, the girl gets assaulted at a club when the guy she was dancing with takes her outside. He started to undress her and it stops when a classmate walks back, causing a distraction. The “hero” does the right thing by using his phone to subtly call for help. In the end, the club manager arrives along with the police and asks is she wants to press charges. Her response is “no” because she 1) doesn’t like the attention it brings (which I understand because it is a part of the larger plot of the novel–even if I don’t necessarily agree with it) and 2) feels that the fact that there will be a police report (meaning the police showed up) is enough to prevent the assailant from doing it again.

Um Excuse Me?

No, it won’t. Because who’s to say the next time he tries something like that, the girl won’t feel the same and reach the same conclusion? Add to that, the fact you’ve just subjected another girl to the same horrible situation as you and this time, there might not be some “hero” to help save her.

And thus a cycle of abuse continues.

I can’t help but feel like this is normalizing the situation. It makes it seem like it is an event that you can easily portray as a one-off and forget. That isn’t the case at all. There are a ton of New Adult novels that focus on what sexual assault can do to a person’s psyche after the fact. There are a ton of real life stories too that remind us of that. Nor are you a hero for taking it in stride or letting him/her off the hook for their actions.

This isn’t to say that assault is always ignored in novels.

I can think of a few great examples I’ve read over the years. Deeper by Robin York focuses on a heroine who is trying to remove revenge porn her ex posted of her online via the legal system. Veronica Mars not only dedicates an entire TV season to a sexual assault storyline but it also has it as the focus in one of the spin-off novels as well. You Against Me by Jenny Downham focuses on the rape trial of the female lead’s brother against the male lead’s sister and the affect it has on everyone in their family and community as a result. But they seem to be few and far between lately.

In Conclusion:

I do understand that not all sexual assault cases are cut and dry. It’s easy to sit on the outside of the situation looking in and say “you should’ve done this or that” without being fully immersed in the situation. It’s a deeply personal situation.

However, I can’t help but feel that in the world of YA fiction–especially ones toted as realistic fiction–you should have the leads make those hard choices. Set an example for those younger minds who are reading these novels they probably relate to in some way or another. You don’t need to sugar coat the outcome; trials are hard for all parties involved. You don’t necessarily have to follow through in legal detail either. Just be a part of that movement to standardize consequences for your actions instead of just brushing them aside like it’s no big deal.

Because the reality is: it is a big deal and we need to treat it like that.

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