Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Not a Punch Line, Not Something Everyone Should Go Through: Sexual Assault and What We Can Do In the Library to Help Our Teens


If you are a teen librarian, a teen specialist, a youth librarian, or someone who works with teens, you need to be aware of sexual assault and what is going on in the schools and communities we work in, and not just when particularly harsh cases make headlines. Steubenville was atrocious, and things like this go on everywhere- and don’t get reported. We have a culture where we blame the victim: their clothes turned me on, if you got with the right person you could be straight, I can *&^% the gay out of you, girls with their skirts up can run faster than guys with their pants down, they liked it then said no.  


Sexual Assault (up to and including rape) is about POWER, not sensuality or sex, although it gets extremely easy to confuse the two when the popular media continues to stream sexual images into the culture 24/7 while expecting everyone to think pure and act pure. When a popular movie uses rape whistles as a punch line, things are wrong.  If it doesn’t feel right for any individual participating in it, it’s wrong. That’s what needs to get out to the teens we work with, and like it or not, we may be their only source of information. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about teens you work with about situations like this one on one, then bring in professionals who can- arrange seminars, workshops, etc. Not everyone feels comfortable talking to their teens, or has a personal relationship with their teens.


And not everyone knows the definitions, either. Sexual assault is not just rape. Inappropriate touching, groping, forced kissing, any type of unwanted contact that can be considered sexual is sexual assault. Male, female, trans, bi, not sure of what gender, not claiming a binary gender, gay straight, anyone on the Rainbow or not claiming anything: it can happen to anyone, by anyone. You can be assaulted by those older than you, those younger, those in positions of power, those you are married to, those you are engaged to, related to, or complete strangers to.


The stats (from RAINN):



  • 1 out of every 6 American women and 1 out of 33 men have been the victim of a rape or attempted rape.
  • 44% of all sexual assault victims are 18 and under. 
  • 7% of girls in grades 5-8 and 12% in grades 9-12 say they have been sexually abused (those who will admit to it).
  • 3% of boys in grades 5-8 and 5% in grades 9-12 say they have been sexually abused (those who will admit to it).


So teens in your library are being sexually assaulted. 10% of your middle grades and 17% of your high schoolers.  They just either may not be aware of the actual term of it, may just think it’s bullying/harassment, or think there is nothing they can do about it. Or it may be something more.

So what can you do?


  • Start Discussions: create programs and workshops to start a dialog that might actually give a teen a chance to speak out or get the help that they need
  • Create Displays: create book displays that are inclusive of not only rape but all types of sexual assault, and highlight the different types. include helplines and shelters where teens (and adults) can go to get help.
  • Train your Staff: let your staff know about what things they can do if you ever do have a teen come up and say they need help, including knowing if you are a mandatory reporter for abuse in your state.  You might find you need to do this through meetings or by just talking- lots of times libraries do not have regular staff meetings or they’re not scheduled often enough to address timely issues.
  • Open the Door: get to know your teens and how they think, and know when things are troubling them. I know that when I don’t see one of my “regulars” that something may be wrong, or if they’re not acting like they normally do that things may be dicey, and I’ve built up enough trust and a good relationship with them that if I go to them they know that I’m not being nosy  it’s out of concern. We care about our kids, so if you see something is wrong, SAY something. You may be the only one who does, and that may be the one thing that changes a bad situation for the better.


Take 5: 5 Titles that grapple with this topic
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Inexcusable by Chris Lynch
The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
 
Have other ways to help out your teens and your community? Share in the comments.

Book Review: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick (SPOILERS)

Spoiler Alert: Please note, given the sensitive nature of this book, this review contains spoilers.  You have been warned.
Short, non-spoilery review: This is an excellently written book about a young man struggling with emotional issues and the day he sets out to kill Asher Beal and then himself.  Raw, powerful, stunning and a shining example of the literary YA novelObviously it contains mature content (and refers to a topic not often addressed in YA lit) and language. 4.5 out of 5 stars (minus half a star for concerns about the ending)
Opening Scene: 
“The P-38 WWII Nazi handgun looks comical lying on the breakfast table next to a bowl of oatmeal.  It’s like some weird steampunk utenisil anachronism.  But if you look very closely just above the handle, you can see the tiny stamped swastika and the eagle perched on top, which is real as hell.
     I take a photo of my place setting with my iPhone, thinking it cold be both evidence and modern art. . . .
    The art and naswer worlds will love it, I bet.
     Especially after I actually kill Asher Beal and off myself.” – pages 1-2
When we first meet Leonard Peacock, it is his birthday.  The day he is going to kill Asher Beal and then commit suicide.  It is the day he visits the only 4 people in the world that matter to him and gives them a single present before he commits this horrible act.  It is the day that changes everything.

The Long Spoilery Review
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is an excellently written book.  An extremeley uncomfortable read, but amazing writing and insight.  In fact, there are parts where Leonard talks about dressing up and following adults around to see if he can find just one happy adult that will take your breath away; the insight of this teenage boy and the amazing way Quick presents it are so deep and profound, you will take a moment to think about your own life.  Before I talk about the book itself, I just want to say: the writing in this book is just amazing.  Award winning, razor cutting, amazing.
As a character, Leonard is interesting because you should obviously not like him.  I mean, he is about to go and kill someone.  But he is heartbreaking and you know that horrible things have happened to him.  In fact – and again, HUGE SPOILER ALERT – I don’t think readers are very surprised to learn that Asher Beal has raped Leonard Peacock.  And as horrific and heartbreaking as it all is in this book, I am glad that Quick wrote this story because there is not a lot of ya lit out there about male rape, and those victims need to have books to turn to in their own time of need.
Leonard Peacock is a book about sexual violence, but it does not include sexual violence as  a way to shock or entice readers. (For more on this topic, read Maggie Steifvater’s post on Literary Rape.)  No, here we have a tale that is very much about the damage that is wrought in the life of its victims, and there is more than one victim.  It brings up meaningful discussion about how our actions can negatively impact others and it effectively portrays just the visceral shattering of this boy, Leonard, who was already on shaky ground to begin with (he has the WORST mother ever present in ya lit. Just absolutely the worst.)
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is full of little oddities: It has sarcastic footnotes throughout the text, letters appear throughout as a future Leonard writes to present day Leonard.  When reading Leonard Peacock you will be reminded of writers like A. S. King (who apparently is my benchmark for awesome, gritty, cutting edge realistic teen fiction).  But these quirky elements really add to the power of it.
Which brings me to what I consider to be a huge note of CAUTION about this book!!! And again, spoiler alert: the ending.  Leonard is saved, in a way, by his favorite teacher (Herr), one of the 4 gift recipients.  He breaks all kinds of rules and takes Leonard home and tells him that yes, high school sucks, but if he just keeps working at it he will survive and be okay.  And then Leonard goes home and his mom never really appears to embrace the fact that Leonard is really and truly messed up and needs help.  Some people will disagree, but I just worry that the end message ends up being “hold on, it will get better” when there needed to be a real statement of “horrible things have happened to you and you are struggling and let’s get you some professional help.”  Even an end note to this affect would be good.  Also, I feel that there would be incredible legal ramifications for Herr who had this knowledge and didn’t report it, especially in light of Aurora and Newtown.  Herr is an excellent teacher and character, and I worry that he is not making the right decision here for either of them.
Look, I understand that the author’s responsibility is ultimately to the story and not the reader, but this is such a sensitive subject and teen readers, especially those who are struggling with these issues already, are so young, I just feel like we have a responsibility to make sure teen readers get the best and most correct information.  What I read was an ARC of the book (borrowed from a friend), so I hope when it is published in August of this year there will be some good endnotes and organizations to contact for help.  But even if there aren’t, I can’t deny that this is an excellently written, powerful, and important book.  
Of course the other hot topic issue is that of teenage violence and violence in the schools.  This is a fascinating look at what leads one boy to contemplate this path, and of the people in his life who both bring him to it and might help him step off it.  Not only should teens read this book, but everyone who works with or parents a teen should read it.

RAINN is dedicated to helping victims of sexual violence in their healing journey 

Edited to add a Link to this Goodreads review by Laura: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/517205211

She says: “The build-up here is slow, and we really get a sense of how smart Leonard is, how he’s not afraid to be different (or think different) than his peers, and how lonely he is and desperate to see something – anything – good in life.”  This is spot on and I love how eloquently and fiercely that desperation is portrayed.

She says: “I’m not so fond of the Letters from the Future, however, and Herr Silvermann was (at times) too much of the Good Teacher Who Cares, hence the rating issue.” I also was not fond of the letters from the future but got that they were another attempt by Leonard to try and convince himself that the future held promise.  The first time you read one of the letters, however, is very jarring.
Forgve Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick.  Published by Little, Brown in August of 2013.  ISBN: 978-0-316-22133-7