Where do you get your image of who and what survivors of sexual abuse can be? Do the survivors portrayed in books and movies accurately reflect real people’s experiences–or are they projections of the creators’ own fears and beliefs?
This summer I sat down with recent young adult novels that have major characters who are survivors of incest, sexual abuse, and rape. It was eye opening to look at these books side-by-side and consider just what they tell young readers about surviving abuse.
Here are some exerpts, but you can read the whole article on line.
At age 10, Jonathan was sexually abused by the family priest. â€œWhen I started middle school and realized what sex is, thatâ€™s when I really started having a problem with this,â€ Jonathan, now a young adult, told me. â€œWhat happened with Father Jim made me feel like a lesser person.â€ Jonathan turned to alcohol, drugs, and aggressive behavior to cope with his shame and prove that he could be â€œcool, a real man.â€…
I spent several days with Jonathan when he was 17, interviewing and photographing him for Strong at the Heart: How It Feels to Heal from Sexual Abuse (Farrar/Melanie Kroupa Books, 2005). My purpose was to showâ€”through their own wordsâ€”how real teens and adults overcome childhood sexual trauma. I wanted readers to have a clear picture of what sexual abuse is, who survivors really are, and how people make choices that lead to a healthy outcome.
The survivors I interviewed have done a substantial amount of healing and come from a wide range of cultural, economic, and racial backgrounds. Our conversations showed me how much we have to learn, if we will only listen. I saw how teens hunger for stories about others, like themselves, who have coped with traumatic experiences. They also gave me new criteria for evaluating fiction that depicts this all-too-common experience of childhood and adolescence.…
… You might expect that trauma this pervasive would be examinedâ€”and its impact exploredâ€”in literature for the very people who are living it. Yet few of the teens I talked with had seen their experience reflected in a book.…
Books discussed in depth include two by Chris Lynch, Inexcusable and Sins of the Fathers, Laura Weiss’ forthcoming Such A Pretty Girl, R. A. Nelson’s Teach Me, and Beth Goobie’s The Place Where the Losers Go.
There’s also a list of some excellent older books by Jacqueline Woodson, Chris Crutcher, Cynthia Voight and Cathy Adkins.
To evaluate the books, I used four criteria that came from discussions with young survivors. I’d love to know what you think!