SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson is a book about rape. Yet, it’s being called “soft pornography” by a man named Dr. Wesley Scroggins, who has called for this book to be banned.
There are many eloquent posts on this topic (Veronica Roth, Myra McIntyre, and Laurie Halse Anderson among them) . CJ Redwine’s moving, incredibly brave piece moved me to write this. If she can write about what she went through, I can certainly speak about what I went through. I do this that in hopes that maybe if we all speak up, if we talk about it openly and honestly, then WE set the boundary where it should be: Rape and sexual assault are crimes, and it is NOT pornography.
As many others have said, this isn’t a post I ever thought I would write. And the thought of hitting “publish” scares me to death – I am second-guessing every paragraph I write. But SPEAK is about such an important topic, it needs to be said, loudly and by as many people as possible.
For most of my life, I couldn’t let myself say I was sexually assaulted. It felt fraudulent, it felt pushy, it felt like I was saying I was worth something more than I was. But I was. Twice.
The first time happened when I was a pre-teen, in my house, in my own bed. A family friend was staying over and I woke up in the middle of the night, with him sitting on my bed and his hand up my pajama shirt, touching me. I woke up disoriented, afraid and so uncertain of what to do. I didn’t speak up then. I didn’t yell. I didn’t scream. I fled to the bathroom, so he would leave.
In my senior year of high school, I was attending a party at a friend’s house. I shouldn’t have been there – it was a wild scene. Kids were drinking. Kids were doing other things. I had a couple of sips of beer, but it made me sick so I stuck to soda after that. I couldn’t leave, so instead, I curled up in the corner of my friend’s living room on the floor and went to sleep. (The bedrooms were otherwise occupied.) I woke up, again in the middle of the night, this time to startling pain and a stranger’s hand down my pants. I woke up screaming. As I realized he was fumbling to get his own pants off, I shoved him off of me and ran out the door. So much of what happened past that is a blur. I didn’t know this boy, but we called the police and filed a report. I didn’t press charges. I couldn’t. I had made choices to be at that party, so did I deserve what I got? I felt that in response from some of the people who knew what happened. And in large part, I believed it.
I went on believing it for a long, long time. And I went on thinking that what happened to me shouldn’t be a big deal. That neither time was sexual assault, because I hadn’t been raped. That it was just touching. It didn’t matter if I hadn’t given permission. The blurring of clear boundaries led me into a destructive relationship, during which another kind of assault happened. When I said no, he didn’t listen. He pushed me where he wanted me, and I let him. I didn’t believe I could push back. Truth be told, I thought it was supposed to be acceptable, that he had the right to treat me that way. I thought it was all I was worth. And to this day, I still don’t know what to call that.
When a man like Dr. Scroggins likens rape scenes in a book to soft pornography, what kind of message is HE sending? How is that helping those who already feel unworthy? Who have been assaulted or raped and had their sense of self-worth shattered? Assault and rape take away pieces of who you are. It jumbles up your beliefs that you absolutely should and can set your own boundaries, and it makes drawing those boundary lines as difficult as drawing a line in the sand during a hurricane.
Rape is NOT pornography. It is not sexy. It is a crime. And books like SPEAK help children, the ones who have the hardest time understanding boundaries and self-worth, to know what that means. You can’t discuss rape or sexual assault without showing what it looks like. What it feels like. What it does to a person. You can’t discuss the devastation it causes to the person who endures it, the one who hides it, who doesn’t realize they are worth speaking up over. Who doesn’t realize that they are not to blame.
A story of rape isn’t something to keep off the shelves because it makes someone else uncomfortable. It makes us uncomfortable, too, but we don’t have a choice. And if the person who most needs this book is scared to speak up, if they are afraid to talk to someone, how will they be told this in any other way? A book like SPEAK gives them a safe way to reach inside themselves and maybe find the strength they need to heal.
I felt as though what I went through wasn’t wrong enough to talk about or even label properly as “wrong” or as “sexual assault.” Because I had made bad choices, because the first person to touch me without permission was a family friend, because the one who didn’t care when I said no was my boyfriend, because, because, because… There are so many things that convince a girl or boy their experiences aren’t valid. That she is supposed to shoulder the blame and the consequences all on her own. Boundaries are hard enough to set when it comes to sex. What is wrong, when does it go too far, what’s acceptable? As much as I wish our children never had to face these issues, they do. It happens.
SPEAK is about rape, but it’s also about hope. Hope for the many people who have been abused or raped and need a way to face their experiences and start believing they are worth more. Keep it on the shelves.