Now it has happened, again. This time my reading has synchronized around the theme of rape. Now this is not a topic I particularly enjoy reading about. Who does? But the last three books I have read all dealt with the topic of rape, and unfortunately the circumstances were all fairly similar: a young, powerless girl is sexually assaulted by an older and more powerful male. After days of agony, each girl decided to report what happened to her and the ensuing police investigation and trial were nightmares. The communities and the law seemed to favor the perpetrator not the victim. The victimization continued long after the actual assault and the trial.
The first book I read on this theme was Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough a fictional account of an actual female artist, Artemisia Gentileschi, who lived in the 1500s in Italy. She was raped by one of her tutors. Since women had no rights in the courts in those days, her father had to bring charges against her perpetrator for losses, since Artemisia could no longer paint because of the trauma. The 300-page transcript of the trial still exists. Ultimately, Artemisia was found to be truthful, but only after her hands were broken as a sort of test of her integrity. Her perpetrator's punishment was a five-year banishment from Rome. Artemisia had to move out of Rome, too, to escape the gossip and malice directed at her. Though a talented artist, today she is mostly remembered for her rape and the trial, not her art. But one can soothe oneself by saying this rape occurred over 500 years ago. Surely things have improved for women in today's society. Right? Only marginally.
The next book I read, Beartown by Fredrik Backman is a completely fictional story about a small town in Sweden completely obsessed with ice hockey. The star of the Junior team, Kevin, who is poised to lead his team to a National title, hosts a party after one victory, and he ends of raping a young, star-struck teen, Maya, whom he invited to the party. When she finally tells her parents what happened and the police get involved, the whole town seems to turn on her (and her family) because Kevin is such a good hockey player. It must have been her fault that she was assaulted. Once again, just like what happened to Artemisia 500 years earlier, Maya seems to be put on trial to prove her innocence, rather than the other way around.
In all three books, the raped survivor was not the only victim, all the family members who stood behind their daughters, became victims, too. In Chessy's family her father lost his job because of the time and attention he needed to give to his daughter and her trial. Her older sister, who also attended the same boarding school, lost friends. The lives of all family members were changed.
Unlike Artemisia and Maya, Chessy found her voice and is using it to make a difference for other women. After Chessy's assualt and the trial, that found her rapist only partially at fault, she decided to become an advocate for sexual assault survivors. She joined an organization called PAVE (Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment) which is a national nonprofit which is designed to prevent sexual violence through education, social advocacy, and survivor support. She has been interviewed on National TV and has served on many panels as a teen spokesperson on the topic. She also started a movement called #I HAVE THE RIGHT TO which encourages women to express their rights in an open way. The book, by the same name, was just just being prepared for publication when the #Me-Too movement started. The two movements work nicely together.
The I HAVE THE RIGHT TO book was a Cybils nominated book in the JH/SH nonfiction category. Though it did not make the short list of books moving forward , it certainly should be widely read by teens and young adults and I recommend all libraries that service those populations get a copy. The message, more than the book, is one that I hope resonates with kids...
Here are some of my rights:
I have the right to...
- say no and mean it
- to wear whatever I want and not be blamed as being a tease
- stand up for myself and to speak out on issues I think are important
- be proud of myself and my accomplishments
- be in a bad mood and not have it blamed on my period or my hormones
What about you? What do you have a right to? Let's keep it going.