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Book Review: Somebody Told Me by Mia Siegert

Publisher’s description

A novel of trauma, identity, and survival.

After an assault, bigender seventeen-year-old Aleks/Alexis is looking for a fresh start—so they voluntarily move in with their uncle, a Catholic priest. In their new bedroom, Aleks/Alexis discovers they can overhear parishioners in the church confessional. Moved by the struggles of these “sinners,” Aleks/Alexis decides to anonymously help them, finding solace in their secret identity: a guardian angel instead of a victim.


But then Aleks/Alexis overhears a confession of another priest admitting to sexually abusing a parishioner. As they try to uncover the priest’s identity before he hurts anyone again, Aleks/Alexis is also forced to confront their own abuser and come to terms with their past trauma.

Amanda’s thoughts

It’s not often that I run across a book where I think, wow, this setting and some of these characters are not like anything I’ve ever read before in YA. That’s not to say they don’t exist anywhere—try as I may, I can’t read all the YA books ever published—but they were new and unique to me. Given that I read hundreds of books a year, many of the particulars eventually get lost as they get buried under new things I’ve read, but Siegert’s characters and setting will stick with me.

It’s the summer before senior year and queer, bigender Alexis/Aleks moves into a rectory with their aunt and uncle. They have decided they won’t present as male while there because it will avoid drama and negativity with/from their aunt and uncle. Readers don’t know for a while what exactly has caused Alexis/Aleks to flee home, where they have supportive and loving parents, to seek a safer place. A nasty, shame-filled voice in their head constantly berates them and accuses them of being a fraud, of not being good enough, of being worthless. Eventually readers come to know what caused Alexis/Aleks to stop going to cons, to give up cosplaying, and to leave their home, and this information will inform the rest of what goes on in the story.

While living with their aunt and uncle, Alexis/Aleks makes new friends: Dima, who wants to attend seminary, Deacon Jameson, and Sister Bernadette. All of these characters are within a few years of Alexis/Aleks’s age and provide not just friendship but also conflict and confusion. And once Alexis/Aleks overhears the horrifying confession (from an unknown confessor) about a priest sexually abusing young boys, those conflicts and confusions (and friendships) grow even more important and uncertain.

Much of this story has to do with when Alexis/Aleks cosplayed as a beautiful boy character and was endlessly objectified and exploited (and eventually assaulted). They is a lot of thoughtful rumination on not only cosplay and roles but gender and faith/religion too. The last many chapters of the book take a very dark turn as the characters (and readers) work out who the abuser is and what to do about it.

Addressing and grappling with secrets, identity, trauma, lies, and survival, this story is not a light read. There is misgendering, homophobia, transphobia, abuse and assault, murder, kidnapping, and other difficult to read and possibly triggering events and ideas. While it’s not possible to say I “enjoyed” this story (that’s too nice of a word for such a trauma-filled book), I did find it suspenseful, unexpected, thoughtful, and compelling.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781541578197
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group

Publication date: 04/07/2020
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

The Bad Man With the Nice Smile, a guest post by Victoria Lee

Content warning: discussion of sexual assault, rape, child abuse, and gaslighting.

In September 2019, Netflix released a new miniseries, Unbelievable. The show followed the true story of a young girl who claimed a stranger broke into her house at night and raped her. But when she reports what happened to the police, parts of her story don’t seem to match up. As the series unfolds, we become aware of all the ways the system—but also the girl’s friends and family—have become biased against her. She’s a resident in a group home, a former delinquent, a foster child with a history of acting out, who had made accusations of abuse before. Everyone seems to assume that she is lying for attention.

As you might have predicted by now, she wasn’t lying. But by the time her attacker was caught and brought to justice, the damage was done; the girl had already been abandoned by everyone she should have been able to trust, just because she didn’t match the vision of what a “real” victim looked like in their heads.

The idea of real victims is a pervasive and pernicious one. Turn on the news and you’ll hear a litany of all the things that real victims do: they wear the right clothes, they don’t go out at night, they report the crime to the police and they don’t wait to do it, they have never made these kinds of allegations before. We are told these things even though victims cannot control the behavior of their aggressors, even though being in foster care or having mental illness or having been previously victimized all substantially increase your likelihood of experiencing future violence. Even though externalizing behaviors like drug use and acting out are often symptoms of having survived abuse.

As a child, I was sexually abused for four years, from ages twelve to sixteen. The perpetrator—although maybe I should say the molester or the rapist or the abuser, all of which are less sanitized and therefore strike me as more accurate—was a close friend of the family. He was my neighbor, my triathlon coach, a man so enmeshed in our lives that I described him to other people as my uncle because any lesser word seemed inadequate to describe the relationship he had with my family. He was in his early thirties and looked like Orlando Bloom and every single one of my friends who came over to the house commented on how ungodly hot he was.

When I was thirteen, I even wrote a character in one of my stories to look just like Brian. (We will call him Brian, because that is, in fact, his actual name. F you, Brian.) The character was the love interest, and was also the protagonist’s teacher. As you can see, already I knew that my job as victim was to romanticize such things. That was the only way to survive.

Brian was not a man in the bushes, was not unshaven in a stained wifebeater; he had no substance abuse problems that I was aware of; he was just a guy. A tall, athletic, well-educated, charismatic, attractive guy. Kids loved him, and he loved kids. Me, on the other hand…I couldn’t be a victim.

I was not what a victim looked like. I was a problem child. I spent too much time on the internet, and listened to angry music, and skipped class and stole my parents’ credit card and shoplifted and screamed at teachers and once threatened to kill a boy who touched me wrong. I was the girl that other girls weren’t allowed to be friends with. I was the girl they prayed for at night. I was the girl who wore boys’ clothes, all black, and kissed other girls and insisted it wasn’t a phase.

Therefore, I was not believed. Not by my family, not by my therapist. I was believed by the crisis team that was called in to evaluate me when the staff at the psychiatric hospital I was later admitted to following a suicide attempt suspected abuse. But at that point the damage was done—I swore to the crisis team that nothing had happened, their suspicions were unfounded, anything I had to say to keep the past buried. I couldn’t deal with being told, once again, that I wasn’t a victim.

Eventually, other girls came forward about my abuser, and he was charged by the state, and ultimately convicted. But this isn’t the kind of trauma you move past. Not just the trauma of the abuse, but the trauma of being told you’re too villainous to ever be victim.

This is why I wrote The Fever King and The Electric Heir. In the series, Dara and Noam both experience abuse in different ways. Dara was physically and sexually abused by a father figure, whereas Noam became enmeshed in an unhealthy, manipulative, exploitative relationship with a much older and much more powerful mentor figure. Both characters are, ultimately, abused by the same man, but their experiences of that abuse are different. The books follow how each character comes to terms with what happened to him, and begins the process of healing. Their abuser, like mine, was charismatic and respected and good-looking—he wasn’t the rapist hiding in the bushes or the drunk frat bro, he was a pillar of the community. When people look for the bad guy, they aren’t looking for Brian. They aren’t looking for Calix Lehrer.

That’s why it was so important to me to write about abusers who don’t fit our vivid stereotype of what an abuser ought to look like—that makes it more difficult to recognize abusers in the real world. And equally so, not all victim/survivors fit the same mold. Some survivors withdraw from the world and become quiet and nervous and fear sex. Other survivors lash out, angry, furious, willing to burn down anything that tries to hurt them again. And still others seem oddly unbothered by what happened to them, numb to the pain or burying it so deep they no longer feel it anymore.

All of these reactions—and others—are okay. The only “right” way to respond to trauma is the way that helps you survive.

I don’t think that good and varied representation of victim/survivors and abusers in literature is a panacea. Abusers are very skilled, after all, at gaslighting their victims (and everyone else). But wide representation of survivors and perpetrators is one step toward chipping away their power and undermining the stories they try to tell about villains and victims and heroes.

Meet Victoria Lee

Victoria Lee grew up in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent twelve ascetic years as a vegetarian before discovering that spicy chicken wings are, in fact, a delicacy. She’s been a state finalist competitive pianist, a hitchhiker, a pizza connoisseur, an EMT, an expat in China and Sweden, and a science doctoral student. She’s also a bit of a snob about fancy whiskey. Lee writes early in the morning and then spends the rest of the day trying to impress her border collie puppy and make her experiments work. She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her partner.

www.victorialeewrites.com Facebook: @victorialeewrites, @amazonpublishing Instagram: @sosaidvictoria, @amazonpublishing, Twitter: @sosaidvictoria, @amazonpub

About The Electric Heir by Victoria Lee

In the sequel to The Fever King, Noam Álvaro seeks to end tyranny before he becomes a tyrant himself.

Six months after Noam Álvaro helped overthrow the despotic government of Carolinia, the Atlantians have gained citizenship, and Lehrer is chancellor. But despite Lehrer’s image as a progressive humanitarian leader, Noam has finally remembered the truth that Lehrer forced him to forget—that Lehrer is responsible for the deadly magic infection that ravaged Carolinia.

Now that Noam remembers the full extent of Lehrer’s crimes, he’s determined to use his influence with Lehrer to bring him down for good. If Lehrer realizes Noam has evaded his control—and that Noam is plotting against him—Noam’s dead. So he must keep playing the role of Lehrer’s protégé until he can steal enough vaccine to stop the virus.

Meanwhile Dara Shirazi returns to Carolinia, his magic stripped by the same vaccine that saved his life. But Dara’s attempts to ally himself with Noam prove that their methods for defeating Lehrer are violently misaligned. Dara fears Noam has only gotten himself more deeply entangled in Lehrer’s web. Sooner or later, playing double agent might cost Noam his life.

ISBN-13: 9781542005074
Publisher: Amazon Publishing
Publication date: 03/17/2020
Series: Feverwake Series #2

Ages 14-17

Healing Is Not a Journey We Take Alone, a guest post by Bree Barton


(Content warning: this post talks about sexual assault.)

If you eavesdrop on a bunch of writers talking about writing, you might think they’ve just returned from the boxing ring.   

“This book is going to destroy me.” “That scene has beaten me to a bloody pulp.” 

The second book seems to hit especially hard. “Boob 2 is killing me,” an author typed in an online support group I’m a part of, a typo that spawned a delightful series of Boob 2 memes.

When my novel Heart of Thorns debuted last year, I was struggling under the massive weight of Boob 2 myself. Tears of Frost is the hardest thing I’ve ever written. I’m fiercely proud of it, but the process was excruciating. What I didn’t say in my online support group was why it was so hard.

I’d been drafting for under a month when my little sister was raped. I share that with her permission, because she’d like our culture to be able to talk more openly about rape and sexual assault.

My sister and I are very close. I dedicated my first book to her. I would burn the world to the ground to protect her. After she was raped, I wanted to.

So I did what any furious writer would do. I poured every ounce of rage into my book.  

I’d had a vague sense that I wanted to write about assault in the sequel to Heart of Thorns. After all, I’d built my entire magical system on an imbalance of power and a history of oppression, specifically against women’s bodies. How could I not write about assault?

After my sister’s rape, I grew braver. I was ready to tackle the messy, contradictory, enraging realities of trauma and its aftermath. I felt both angry and helpless, so I made my main character a fighter, someone who channeled her anger with her fists.

Meanwhile, my sister took a weeklong leave from high school. I brought her out to Los Angeles where we watched YouTube videos of Krav Maga, jujitsu, and street fighting, then practiced our new moves in my living room. We laughed together. We cried. We felt strong and powerful.

Sometimes, that isn’t enough.

One year later, during a trip to Morocco to research Book 3, I was assaulted in my hotel room by a hotel employee. 

Processing what happened has been an ongoing journey. My Tears of Frost copyedits were due the week after I left Morocco. I was reading, at a very close level, a book that dealt overtly with sexual assault. At best it was surreal. At worst, impossible. 



Here’s the kicker: the following week I flew to Portland to moderate a panel at a literary conference. The subject of the panel?


Girls and Sexual Agency. 



Oh, dramatic irony, my old friend. 

My story is not unique. Most of my friends have been harassed or assaulted, many far worse. I know, rationally, it wasn’t my fault. I’ve said this to my sister dozens of times, and I say it to her still. Yet the same questions continue to plague me. Was it because I smiled in the lobby? Were my pants and long-sleeve shirt too form fitting? Why was I naïve enough to open my hotel room door? 

When my mind wanders down those familiar furrows, I do my best to coax it back. Rape and sexual assault cannot be traced to smiles and clothes and open doors. It’s always about power. In Morocco, my power was taken away from me.  

And yet. I survived. I’ll tell you why.



Other women

After I was assaulted, our tour guide led me down a dark back hallway of the hotel to confront my assaulter so that he could “apologize” and keep his job. I knew this wasn’t right—I was absolutely terrified—but I was in too much shock to be able to stop what was happening. When the women on my tour found out? They LEAPT into action. They ensured that the employee was fired and off the premises immediately. They took me into their rooms, their dinner tables, their train cars. They comforted me through the mental fog that descended after the adrenaline wore off. These women became my sisters, my mothers, my friends. They walked beside me through the streets of Morocco, and they walked with me through the tortuous labyrinth of blame, fear, and confusion inside my own brain.



When I think of that time now, these women emerge out of the dark haze like warm beacons: with jokes, snacks, courage, and compassion. I don’t know how I would have survived without them. That’s not me being weak. That’s me being human.



I have felt so many things these past months. Frightened and frozen, hopeful and lucky, incandescent with rage. I was okay, and I wasn’t okay, and telling the whole story over and over made me feel exhausted and exposed. When a friend asked, “Will you travel alone again?” I didn’t know how to respond. Traveling solo brings all the best parts of me to life. The thought of losing that was so painful I had to put it in a box and shove it onto the tallest shelf, until I was ready to take it down. 

Six months later, an opportunity came to take it down.

I met a woman who was curating a book of letters by Arab women. She offered to fly me to Bahrain, a tiny archipelago in the Persian Gulf, to help her conduct interviews. I said yes.

I could write whole books about the women I met. The badass lawyer who’s fighting the patriarchy on a daily basis, whether it’s representing women pro bono or hiring an all-female team of other badass lawyers. The founder of a nonprofit that empowers and develops youth and women. The blogger who was incarcerated for posting on Instagram about female anatomy and women’s sexual pleasure. Since coming home, I’ve gone to sleep every night thinking, There is so much to fight for. And there are so many women fighting for it. 

That is why I wrote Tears of Frost. It’s why I poured so much of my heart into crafting a story about two young women who are in a dark, isolating place—and how they crawl, claw, and fight their way back to one another. The book became a way for me to reflect on larger themes of assault, power, and ultimately, healing.

I don’t believe healing is a journey we take alone. I believe we need friends, communities, sisters. We need guidance and support from people who have walked this path before, which is why it was important to me to include an author’s note at the front of my book, and resources at the end.

My Boob 2 is not a perfect book by any means. But it’s a book in which I chose to fight for something.

Sometimes, that is enough.

Meet Bree Barton

Bree Barton is author of the Heart of Thorns trilogy, a fierce feminist fantasy series about three girls with dark magic—and even darker secrets. The second book, Tears of Frost, comes out from KT/HarperCollins on November 5th, 2019. Bree’s novels have been published in seven countries and four languages, three of which she cannot speak. 

When she isn’t crafting a story, Bree teaches Rock ‘n’ Write, a free dance-and-writing class she created for teen girls in LA. You can find her on Instagram @SpeakBreely, where she posts fan art, book giveaways, and the occasional picture of her melancholy dog. 

About Tears of Frost by Bree Barton

This captivating second book in Bree Barton’s Heart of Thornstrilogy deftly explores the effects of power in a dark magical kingdom—and the fierce courage it takes to claim your body as your own. This feminist teen fantasy is perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Leigh Bardugo.

Mia Rose is back from the dead. Her memories are hazy, her body numb—but she won’t stop searching. Her only hope to save the boy she loves and the sister who destroyed her is to find the mother she can never forgive.   

After her mother’s betrayal, Pilar is on a hunt of her own—to seek out the only person who can exact revenge. All goes according to plan until she collides with Prince Quin, the boy whose sister she killed.

As Mia, Pilar, and Quin forge dangerous new alliances, they are bewitched by the snow kingdom’s promise of freedom…but nothing is as it seems under the kingdom’s glimmering ice.

ISBN-13: 9780062447715
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/05/2019
Series: Heart of Thorns #2
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Shout! Laurie Halse Anderson Continues to be the Voice We Need Shouting in the World About Sexual Violence in the Life of Teens

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Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson was first published in the year 1999, twenty years ago this year. At this time, I had been a YA librarian (paraprofessional) for about 7 years (roughly). It was one of the first teen books I had read that realistically and honestly talked right to the heart of teens about an issue that so many of them had been forced to deal with in their lives: sexual violence. By the time they turn 18, 1 in 10 children will be the victims of sexual violence. For more information on sexual violence or for help, please contact RAINN.

“I have survived. I am here. Confused, screwed up, but here. So, how can I find my way? Is there a chain saw of the soul, an ax I can take to my memories or fears?”
― Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak

In the year 2000, Speak was named a Printz Honor Award winning title, the inaugural year of the Printz Award. We talk often in the library community about the need to continually weed our YA collections to keep room for new releases, but Speak is hands down one of those classic titles that it is hard to imagine ever weeding. Not because it’s a classic, and I guess at this point it truly is, but because it is in fact unfortunately all too painfully relevant today, and I fear that it will always be so. Speak is the rare gem of a novel that speaks eloquently and powerfully in ways that relate across decades to a wide variety of readers. And in the era of #MeToo, it is more relevant than ever.

“I wonder how long it would take for anyone to notice if I just stopped talking.”
― Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak

An Educators Guide to Building Resilience Through YA Literature

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On March 12 of 2019, Laurie Halse Anderson will release her newest book Shout, a moving biography that seeks once again to highlight the very real truths of sexual violence in the life of teens – and in her own life. I was honored to receive an early copy of this book for review, which I read out loud to both my teenage daughter and my husband. This book, written in verse, is a rich, raw and relevant look behind the scenes of the life and work of Anderson, who has dedicated her to life to not only writing high quality YA for teen readers, but to speaking out to educate and advocate for discussions about sexual violence in the life of teens. Anderson challenges us time and again to keep having the uncomfortable discussions that we need to be having with ourselves, our teens and our culture to help put an end to sexual violence.

A Reflection on Teaching Speak in the Classroom

Why did I choose to read this book out loud to my family? The topic of sexual violence is very important to me. I, myself, am a survivor and I wanted us all to read it together and talk about it. I began early in life talking with my two daughters about sexual violence and consent in my attempt to help them stand up for themselves, to create their own healthy boundaries, and to make sure they knew what sexual violence looks like and that they could and should come to their parents for help at any time. I am grateful to have this book as another tool in my arsenal to talk with teens – and my teens in particular – about this important topic. I believe the greatest gift that we can give to the safety and well being of our children is to engage in conversations with them about sexual health, safety and consent. And I believe that we need to begin from the moment that they are born having these conversations in age appropriate ways.

Laurie Halse Anderson Recommends Five Books to Talk About Rape Culture

I had to pause in my reading several times as I read this aloud because I cried – a lot. I cried because Anderson uses the language of poetry perfectly to capture and talk about what it’s like to be a woman in this world, what it’s like to have abusive situations in your life, and what it’s like to navigate and live with the aftermath of sexual violence. The poetry is exquisite, even when it’s hard to read. She said beautifully so many things that I have never had the words to say for myself.

School Library Journal: After #MeToo

Shout is broken up into several parts. The first part speaks specifically of Laurie Halse Anderson’s life as it is truly a biography told in poetic verse. I have never read a biography in verse form before, and I don’t read many biographies at all to be honest, but I was blown away by how powerful of a tool poetry is for a biography. Poetry, it turns out, is the perfect narrative tool for conveying not only moments and insight, but the emotional layers and hidden parts of those moments. What a truly profound approach to biography, and highly effective. I could tattoo snippets of these poems onto my skin as I would want to share them with the world to help us all understand the harm we are doing to one another when we violate each other in these ways.

In other parts, Anderson speaks more specifically about the various stories that the teens she has encountered have shared with her about their own sexual abuse and what the novel Speak means to them. All of it is honest, brave, raw and moving. As someone who has talked to a lot of teens, I recognized all too well these types of stories and, again, felt that the language of poetry was the perfect tool to help readers understand the depth and breadth of pain and emotion that a teen can carry with them for a lifetime after surviving sexual violence. These poems lay souls bare and remind readers that our kids are genuinely hurting. We owe it to them to keep having these uncomfortable conversations and to truly try and change the culture that keeps leaving our youngest and most vulnerable broken and somehow responsible for trying to put themselves back together again. Anderson doesn’t just try and speak to teens or for teens, but she continues to try and amplify their voices and challenges us all to really listen to teens.

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I can not recommend this book highly enough. It is not a comfortable read, and it shouldn’t be because it is dealing with uncomfortable truths about our world; but it is a necessary read, and it is a truly moving one. I am so glad that over the years Anderson not only has found her voice, but that she has chosen to Shout. We need voices like hers shouting, I just hope that we will learn how to listen.

Publisher’s Book Description

A searing poetic memoir and call to action from the bestselling and award-winning author of Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson!

Bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson is known for the unflinching way she writes about, and advocates for, survivors of sexual assault. Now, inspired by her fans and enraged by how little in our culture has changed since her groundbreaking novel Speak was first published twenty years ago, she has written a poetry memoir that is as vulnerable as it is rallying, as timely as it is timeless. In free verse, Anderson shares reflections, rants, and calls to action woven between deeply personal stories from her life that she’s never written about before. Searing and soul-searching, this important memoir is a denouncement of our society’s failures and a love letter to all the people with the courage to say #metoo and #timesup, whether aloud, online, or only in their own hearts. Shout speaks truth to power in a loud, clear voice– and once you hear it, it is impossible to ignore.

This book will be published on March 12, 2019

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In 2014, TLT did a year long series on sexual violence in the life of teens. You can find all of those posts that include statistics, resources, and book discussions here.

Sunday Reflections: It Was a Rough Week to be a Teenage Girl

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault and Violence

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This past week, John Kerry said that Trump had the “insecurity of a teenage girl.” Are teenage girls insecure? Some of them are, perhaps in part because we continue to use being a girl and femininity as an insult. Or perhaps it’s because teenage girls are told that they have to be sexy, but not too sexy because then you’re asking for it. Or perhaps it’s because teenage girls are told that they have to be smart but not too smart because then they are intimidating. Or perhaps it’s because teenage girls are told they have to speak up but no too loudly because then they are shrill and bossy. Or perhaps it’s because teenage girls are told that they have to be perfect and bear responsibility not only for themselves, but for the education of the boys around them (dress codes), for the future of the human race (pregnancy and maternal instinct) and for, well, everything it feels like.

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But if teenage girls weren’t already feeling insecure about being used metaphorically to take down a sitting president by pointing out their, well, insecurity, they were also told repeatedly by political, cultural, and spiritual leaders that their safety doesn’t matter. Especially if it means that we might have to reconsider our current Supreme Court candidate and have to put pushing a political agenda on hold to try and find a conservative Supreme Court candidate that hasn’t been accused of attempted sexual assault. That’s right, teenage girls got to spend the entire week hearing about how their sexual safety really doesn’t matter, which definitely won’t make them feel insecure, am I right? Boys will be boys and we just have to accept that, even if it means that we have to sacrifice the long term emotional well being of our daughters. Even if it means we have to place yet another alleged sexual predator on the Supreme Court. If the current version of the future plays out the way the GOP wants it to play out, that means that teenage girls will get to grow up in a world where two sitting Supreme Court justices have been accused of sexual violence and harassment. If that doesn’t make you feel insecure and fearful about your place in the world, I can’t really figure out what would.

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In the meantime, they got to hear elected representatives, including our own personal self-confessed sexual predator president, talk about how the pain of teenage girls doesn’t really matter. Of course, we shouldn’t find this surprising from the man who confessed that he liked to walk in on teenage girls changing clothes in the dressing room of the beauty pageant he owned. So I’m not going to lie, as a former teenage girl who was sexually abused, I don’t really care what this man has to say about sexual abuse and harassment. Self-confessed perpetrators don’t get to tell survivors of sexual violence how they should think or feel about what has happened to them.

Then the hashtag #whyIdidntreport started trending. It’s important to note that this is not the first time a hashtag of this nature has trended and it, most infuriatingly, won’t be the last. Why don’t victims of sexual violence immediately report their abuse? Because we know that 9 times out of 10 we won’t be believed and even if we are, the men who victimize us will pay very little consequences. Remember Brock Turner? There are thousands of Brock Turners who are serving too little time for violating us. And there are far too many people in our culture who worry about the effects of jail time on men like Brock Turner’s future then there are those that worry about the long term effects of sexual violence on the girls that men like Brock Turner rape. Maybe teenage girls are insecure because we keep telling them that their pain doesn’t matter and that they are the sacrifices we are willing to make to sustain the lives of men.

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When you think about the world that teenage girls are growing up in, and I mean really think about it, they are doing a bang up job in all honesty. They are out there marching, demanding to be heard, learning, growing, and more. They are rising up, as they always have, against a patriarchy that continues to claim that they are somehow lesser, so much lesser that even some of our most progressive elected representatives still find it far too easy to use them as a negative comparison to make a political point. Yes, I’m side eyeing you John Kerry.

It was a rough week to be a teenage girl, as most weeks are when you live in a patriarchy. I don’t blame teenage girls though, because it is the adults that are making life hard for them. When I marched in the Women’s March one of the signs I kept seeing was a sign that said, “I can’t believe I’m still marching for the same shit.” That’s what this week has felt like. Why are we still here? Why are we still willing to sacrifice our daughters for the sake of our sons political careers? It’s 2018, maybe we can find someone who hasn’t been accused of sexual violence to serve in the highest court of our land. Maybe, just this once, we can send a different message to send to our sons and daughters and let them know that character matters and female pain isn’t an acceptable sacrifice.

My daughters aren’t an acceptable sacrifice for your political agenda.

Helping Teens Prepare for College? Don’t Forget to Talk About Sexual Violence

I will readily admit that college preparation has been one aspect of teen librarianship that I have often failed to provide adequate services in. I have been really focusing on that more this year and have even started a special collection for college preparation/research and new adult materials. The New Adult collection specifically focuses on books with main characters in college to give teens the opportunity to find and read books about this possible next step in their life. At the same time, my own teenage daughter is starting to prepare for college. Just yesterday I was researching what the best colleges are for a Chemistry major. Both professionally and personally, helping teens plan for life after high school has been very much on my mind.

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Later that same day, I walked behind the circulation desk where I heard two staff members talking about visiting Ohio University over the weekend. If you don’t know, there have been 6 reported rapes on the OU campus since school started this fall. That’s six rapes in about a month’s time. That moment was a jarring reminder to me, as someone who works with teens and is researching college with her teen daughter, that sending our kids – especially our female ones – off to college can be an incredibly scary thing. Yet when we talk about doing college research, we often focus on things like cost and what schools have are best for a particular major. These questions are, no doubt, important and relevant, but they are not the only questions we should be teaching our teens to research. I would like to ask everyone of us that works with teens to expand our college preparation talks to include looking specifically at campus safety.

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Here are some facts about college sexual violence from Rainn:

  • 11.2% of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation (among all graduate and undergraduate students).2
  • Among graduate and professional students, 8.8% of females and 2.2% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.2
  • Among undergraduate students, 23.1% of females and 5.4% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.2
  • 4.2% of students have experienced stalking since entering college.2

Discussion about consent and sexual violence should definitely start before college (it should start at birth!), but as we are talking with teens and providing resources for teens to research college, one of the things we should be telling them to research is their college campus safety statistics and the statistics of the towns in which their colleges are located. College planning and prep can’t just be about majors and cost, it must also be about safety. Our teens may not think about this so we owe it to them to remind them to research this aspect of college life as well. We need to make sure our teens are making fully informed decisions, and there health and safety should be a very important part of that equation.

Things to look for:

Research college campus safety statistics for each college being considered

Town safety statistics and crime rates for each of the colleges being considered

Look at the college website. Do they have a page that talks about campus safety and consent? What does the college you are researching say specifically about college safety and their response protocol for reported incidents of sexual violence?

Do a general Google search. Has the college been in the news for recent incidents or for complaints about improper handling of reported incidents?

If you do a college campus visit, specifically ask them about both their safety statistics and whether or not they have a written procedure and staff training for handling issues of sexual violence on campus.

Resources:

How Safe Is Your Campus? Campus Safety Resources You Need

How to Do College Research Right: Step-by-Step Guide

Learn How to Research Campus Safety | Best Colleges | US News

College sexual assault: 10 questions to ask when choosing a school

18 Questions to Ask About Your School’s Sexual Assault Policy

10 Questions Every Parent, Student Should Ask About Campus Safety

Choosing a university? Look into campus rape rankings before you start packing

2019 Safest College Campuses in America – Niche

Sunday Reflections: If We Want to End Sexual Violence, We Have to Change the Way Adults Talk About It

Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence, Rape

svyalit

Some weeks (months?) ago, the news broke out that a high school near me was embroiled in a horrific sexual violence case. At first, the media kept referring to it as “hazing”. After a lot of push back, the media and community have started to use the terms sexual assault. Hazing in itself is not okay and can often be deadly, but by calling it hazing the language was minimizing the sexual violence that was taking place. This is just one of the many ways I have seen this case discussed that have caused a lot of concern for me.

Before I begin talking about the fall out, let me share what I can about the case. Originally, five students from a team sporting event were arrested for “hazing” fellow team mates in the locker room. This “hazing” involved male team mates violating other male team mates in ways that are too clearly sexual assault and rape.

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I’m not here to talk about the case, because at this point it’s an ongoing investigation and what I have heard is all media reports, speculation and rumors. But I am here to talk about the way adults in the community talked about it after the news broke. As often happens, we learned about this via the media and people began to share the news on Facebook. Soon, the comments started flowing and, as always happens, the comments reveal how much of a problem adults and the way that adults view and talk about sexual violence contribute to the problem. We can’t change the culture of sexual abuse until we change the way adults talk to and about sexual violence.

Of course one of the first statements that started pouring out was: BOYS WILL BE BOYS. This is a false and harmful statement. A vast majority of boys and men never sexually violate others, because they can in fact practice self control and restraint. Make no mistake, sexual violence happens a lot, but this idea that “boys will be boys” is a harmful beginning point. It excuses male behavior by suggesting that men are primarily oriented towards violence and that they lack the ability to learn, grown and practice self control. Not only is this statement untrue and harmful, but men should be angry at what this presupposes about them. Men can and should be held accountable for their actions. These boys made a choice to violate others, they should be held responsible for that choice.

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Many other respondents tried to excuse the specifics of this case by suggesting that THIS HAPPENS EVERYWHERE. While I hope that is statistically untrue and that a majority of high schools don’t have rampant sexual abuse happening in their locker rooms, I want to know why the adults felt comfortable shrugging this off as ‘it happens everywhere” instead of demanding to know if it does, in fact, happen everywhere, then how can we stop it because it’s not okay. Even if it happens somewhere else, why are we willing to accept it as happening in our communities and to our children? If it does happen at other communities, what can we do in our local community to change the culture and make our kids safe? A child who wants to participate in sports should not have to be willing to submit themselves to abuse in order to participate. That is an unacceptable starting point. Students involved in extracurricular events should be held to a higher standard, not a lesser one.

Many commenters reported that this had in fact been going on in this specific school for years and others wanted to know if that was true, then why hadn’t someone spoken out sooner. WHY DIDN’T THEY REPORT IT SOONER is a very common talking point. Well, it turns out that some may have but, as frequently happens when reporting sexual violence, their complaints were ignored. But the comments themselves reveal why those who are victims of abuse don’t come forward. Revealing abuse in this type of setting often puts the victims in an even more dangerous position. Now they must navigate the hallways of their school with a target on their back as the investigation happens and the popular kids – and the abusers are often the popular kids – harass, bully, and vilify them. Or they are pulled out for their safety and everything about their lives is suddenly upended. And if their families stay in the community, they are forced to live among a life-time reminders and triggers. There are so many very real systemica barriers to victims of sexual violence coming forward and reporting. And that doesn’t even get into the shame, guilt, self-blame and questioning that can happen before a victim is even ready to come forward. There are both personal and systemic barriers that can cause a delay in when an event happens and when it is reported. And truthfully, statistically we know that a large number of victims will never report because those barriers are very real.

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Especially when a sports team is involved, the victim who comes forward can be seen as a traitor because the sad truth is, we live in a culture that puts winning and sports above individual suffering. A lot of wrong doing is swept under the rug to keep the momentum of a winning sports team going because they produce revenue and positive PR. And make no mistake, PR is very important to schools and communities. The rating and success of local schools helps to attract new business, and new business equals growth, and growth equals money. The book MOXIE by Jennifer Matthieu does a good job of highlighting what can happen when students try to change the culture of sexual violence in a high school.

There has also been some question of which adults knew what and when, and whether or not things were covered up. A lot of people have come to these educators defense and suggested that this is a one time mistake and overall, they are good people. This is something we see again and again when we talk about racism and sexual violence, the explaining away of abusive behavior because overall, this person is really a good person. I can’t speak to what these adults knew and when, but if they knew and failed to act to protect the victims immediately, then they failed these children and may have engaged in criminal behavior (teachers are mandated reporters) and they don’t deserve to be in this position again. When I and other parents send their children to school, we need the full confidence of knowing that teachers and staff will protect our children, respond to their concerns, and follow the rules of the district and the law that has been established to help keep our kids safe.

real talk sexual violence brochure page 2

As someone who works with teens, I am frequently put in the position of having to determine how to respond when I have concerns about a teen’s safety. It is, in fact, a hard position to be in. As a public librarian, I’m not a mandated reporter and I often don’t have enough information, but I have gone to my administration frequently and said here’s my concern and we worked out how to respond and report. I have made many a call to either the police or the children’s protective services. I do not in any way seek to diminish how hard it is to be put in these positions because I have been often and it is no easy task. There are situations that I have been involved in that will probably haunt me until the day I die as having to wrestle with the safety of others is a hard position to be in. But I’m also a mother and a sexual violence survival and I want our go to response to always be: protect the children immediately.

As I read through the comments on several articles around this case, I was continually appalled by the way the adults talked about these events. My heart broke for the victims that might wander into these online forums and read what others were saying about this case (and I really hope that they don’t). And as always happens when I read the comments on reports of sexual violence, my heart broke again and again for the way that we blame and talk about victims, the way we fail to understand the hurdles that victims must face to come forward and be taken seriously, and the way that their life is shifted not just by the abuse itself, but by the way that others respond when they do come forward and ask for help to make their world safer. Sexual violence victims are abused over and over again by the ways that we talk about sexual violence in our culture.

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And in this post, I continue to use the term victims as opposed to survivors because these teens are in the thick of it. They are victims. One day, they will work through the events of what happened to them and may choose to label themselves as survivors, but this is new and real and raw and we are just learning that they are victims. They are victims that by all accounts this community has failed and is continuing to fail.

I have worked with teens in public libraries for 24 years and this is the first time that I personally have heard about a case like this and so close to home. This school is not my child’s school nor is it a school in the district in which I work and serve, but it’s not a story in a YA novel – it’s a very real community that affects the lives of people I love and respect. And as I read through the comments all I could think was this: we still have so much work to do to break down the toxic ways in which we respond to and talk about real life sexual violence. Yes, talking about it with our kids and helping to change it for the next generation is an important part of the process, but we have to also do the work of changing the way that adults talk about and respond to reports of sexual violence.

Some of my friends did a really good job of doing this work. They went online and repeatedly used the term sexual assault every time someone tried to downplay this as merely playful hazing. Many others reminded commenters that boys will be boys is an unacceptable statement. And these are the things we must do, over and over again. Use language and challenge others to use language that speak truth to the horrific nature of crimes of sexual violence. Call the language out, redirect the language, make sure that headlines and comments focus on the true nature of these crimes. We must do the work to continually challenge the way that we talk about sexual violence to help change the culture (when and if you can, I know that if you are a survivor yourself that this can be challenging.)

Things we can do:

  • Call out problematic language
  • Call out slut shaming
  • Call out victim blaming
  • Tell our family, friends and coworkers that jokes about rape and sexual violence are not okay. When someone tries to make a joke, point out that the joke is not acceptable.
  • Contact the media immediately when we see problematic headlines or reporting. For example, make sure they use active voice which highlights that sexual violence is a choice of the abuser instead of focusing on passive voice.
  • Redirect any questions or comments about the victim back onto the abuser. If someone says why were they there, re-direct and ask why did the abuser think it was okay to abuse someone.
  • Arm yourself with facts from RAINN and other organizations. Facts are important when discussing issues.
  • Familiarize yourself with the issues surrounding reporting, the obstacles for victims, and the many reasons why victims postpone or choose to never report. Knowing this information helps when people ask why they didn’t report right away.
  • Understand and remind others that everyone responds to sexual violence differently and no one owes us their story or their advocacy. Many survivors will choose to become advocates, but others don’t and that is also okay. Everyone gets to heal and talk about their experiences in their own way.
  • Make sure where you work has a solid sexual harassment/violence policy in place and that all staff are trained on the policy.

Systemic change calls for systemic solutions. We have to address the issues on as many fronts as possible. Lots of people are doing great work writing for and talking about these issues with kids and teens, but it’s not enough. We as adults have to change the conversation among ourselves.

#MeToo: Teens, Libraries and Sexual Harassment

svyalitOver recent weeks, a wide variety of discussion has been happening about sexual violence, harassment, and assault. These are important conversations that have wide reaching implications. Make no mistake, these things are also happening in the lives of our teens. With the discussion there has been a lot of sharing online with the hashtag #MeToo. This hashtag was begun years ago and became very active again in the past couple of weeks.

#MeToo: An activist, a little girl and the heartbreaking origin of ‘Me too’

#MeToo: Women are sharing their stories of sexual harassment

Many librarians are bringing this topic into their libraries by sharing book displays of titles that deal with the topic of sexual violence with a simple sign that says “#MeToo”. I think this is a relevant and important display for our teens. This IS a topic that they deal with, it is also a conversation that is happening right now. Our teens are online, plugged in and connected; they are very aware of the conversations and engaging in their own ways. We need to be relevant to our teens, which means we need to make sure that we are responding and putting up these types of displays. Some librarians have responded that they would not be allowed to put up a display of this nature because it is too political, but this is not about politics – this is about teens and their lives, the lives they live and the topics that they talk about. By the time they reach the age of 18, 1 in 4 or 5 will be the victims of sexual violence. And almost no female will graduate high school without experiencing some form of sexual harassment. My teenage daughter has already dealt with this on multiple occasions and it is a topic that we talk about often as I try and help her navigate how to stand up for herself and demand safety and respect. By the time they graduate high school almost all of our teen girls will be able to share their own #MeToo stories, and this is unacceptable.

svyalitbrochurepage1real talk sexual violence brochure page 2

If you are considering putting up your own #MeToo display, here are some book lists to that you can draw from.

#SVYALit: The Sexual Violence in YA Lit Project and Discussion – includes book reviews and book lists

13 YA Books About Sexual Assault And Rape Culture

#SJYALit: Ten Young Adult Novels for Sexual Assault Awareness

YA Books About Rape Culture, Fight Against Sexual Assualt

When Talking About Sexual Consent, YA Books Can Be A Parent’s Best Resource

9 Books That Are a Call to Action Against Rape Culture

#MeToo Book List by Barnes and Noble

On MOXIE, THE NOWHERE GIRLS, Current Events and the Power of Books

There has been a lot of very important discussion in the news this past couple of weeks about sexual harassment and abuse by men in positions of power, in no small part thanks to the revelations regarding Harvey Weinstein. Of course women know and have known for years that type of culture and abuse isn’t rare and isn’t limited to Hollywood, it’s everywhere. Yes, it’s even in our public school perpetrated by both teachers and students.

moxie

This year there are two really good books that discuss this very topic and The Teen has read them both.
She has also already enthusiastically passed them on to friends with the note that they need to read these books right now. After she finished reading the second book, The Nowhere Girls, she came and told me that she was going to put up boundaries! It turns out there is a male student at school who keeps touching her, not in obviously inappropriate ways but in ways that still made her feel uncomfortable and she felt like she couldn’t say anything about it because it was just her being “weird”. But the truth is that she hated it and wanted it to stop. She has since told him that he is not allowed to touch her without her permission. To be honest, I believe there were threats like, “if you touch me again without my permission I will break your arm.”

As a parent, it was amazing to watch her read these two books and apply them to her real life experiences. Without a doubt, they made her think and gave her a sense of empowerment that she needed for a real life situation. As a librarian, it just reinforced for me that yes, what we do is important. Access to stories are important and powerful and although I see it in action every day, it doubly meaningful to see it in action with my daughter.

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I am the survivor of sexual abuse. The first time that a man ever touched my breast without my permission was when I was in the 6th grade. It was not the last time. I have been sexually harassed at work, and once a male colleague reported that HE was uncomfortable having witnessed it yet nothing happened. When these stories come out, women are not surprised. They know. And we are not surprised by the silence of women, because we understand how and why that happens as well. When we tell, we are doubted, condemned, and sometimes suffer great losses, like family, friendships and yes, jobs and reputation. Victims of sexual violence are never in a position of power, which is what men accused of sexual abuse like Harvey Weinstein and even Donald Trump are counting on (adding allegedly here to protect myself legally).

It would be nice to think that reactions this week mean the tide is finally turning, but at the same time our current president is on tape talking about how he can get away with this very thing because “they let you” because he’s famous. So while men are saying things like this ends now, women in the know recognize that it needed to end decades ago – and this will still probably not be the things that makes it end. But books can help. Book reveal what we try to keep hidden in the dark, they enlighten, and they empower. It’s not the only thing that is needed, but we definitely need them.


  1. So speaking of creepy dudes and sexual harassment, let me share a story about The Teen and events of this week. A thread.


  2. So The Teen recently read both MOXIE by @jenmathieu and THE NOWHERE GIRLS by Amy Reed. She loved them both. AND she told me


  3. @jenmathieu there is a boy at school who always touches her in creepy ways. Massaging her shoulders. Poking her belly. And it made her uncomfortable


  4. @jenmathieu but she thought it was just her being weird. But she read the books and declared, I'M DRAWING PERSONAL BOUNDARIES and telling this guy


  5. @jenmathieu that he can't touch me without my permission. Which, hell yes! And these important books helped her realize this & empowered her. Thank you!


  6. @jenmathieu Also, every girl. Every. Single. One. Will deal with this at some point. And speaking up is hard & can be costly. Careers, reputation, etc


  7. @jenmathieu And they always try to make it seem innocent but they are definitely not. They are trying to satisfy personal needs - power, thrills - at


  8. @jenmathieu the expense and comfort of another. And when girls speak up, they are ungrateful bitches, or manipulative, or vindictive. We as a society


  9. @jenmathieu need to change the narrative and call it what it is and recognize it as a non consensual violation of another person.


  10. @jenmathieu It's so normalized for girls she - who tells me everything - didn't even think to come talk to me about this. It's just the way things are.


  11. @jenmathieu And I obviously think every collection should have and everyone should read BOTH Moxie and The Nowhere Girls. Yes, both of them. We need


  12. @jenmathieu the message repeated and reinforced in multiple ways to help break down rape culture and change the discourse. Get them both. The end.

About Moxie

Moxie girls fight back!

Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes and hallway harassment. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, so now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. Pretty soon Viv is forging friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, and she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

About The Nowhere Girls

Three misfits come together to avenge the rape of a fellow classmate and in the process trigger a change in the misogynist culture at their high school transforming the lives of everyone around them in this searing and timely story.

Who are the Nowhere Girls?

They’re everygirl. But they start with just three:

Grace Salter is the new girl in town, whose family was run out of their former community after her southern Baptist preacher mom turned into a radical liberal after falling off a horse and bumping her head.

Rosina Suarez is the queer punk girl in a conservative Mexican immigrant family, who dreams of a life playing music instead of babysitting her gaggle of cousins and waitressing at her uncle’s restaurant.

Erin Delillo is obsessed with two things: marine biology and Star Trek: The Next Generation, but they aren’t enough to distract her from her suspicion that she may in fact be an android.

When Grace learns that Lucy Moynihan, the former occupant of her new home, was run out of town for having accused the popular guys at school of gang rape, she’s incensed that Lucy never had justice. For their own personal reasons, Rosina and Erin feel equally deeply about Lucy’s tragedy, so they form an anonymous group of girls at Prescott High to resist the sexist culture at their school, which includes boycotting sex of any kind with the male students.

Told in alternating perspectives, this groundbreaking novel is an indictment of rape culture and explores with bold honesty the deepest questions about teen girls and sexuality.

Resources: #SVYALit and #MHYALit – Teens and Suicide, Teens and Sexual Violence Brochures

Due in part to the discussions I have been having surrounding the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, I made an informational brochure on the topics of suicide and sexual violence for the teens at my library. I am posting them here for you and you can use them if you would like. A few notes though.

One, these contain titles that I currently have in my library on the subjects. I have been working on my next book order and I am working to make sure to include highly recommended titles and titles that feature diverse MC or are Own Voices on these subjects in my next book order.

Two, I think you can easily make corrections or additions by downloading book covers you have in your collection and overlaying them in a graphics program if you wish.

Three, we checked multiple times because I’m me for typos, so I hope there aren’t any.

I am also working on one to address the current drug/opioid crisis that we are witnessing nationwide and in the county that I serve, but that one is taking a little more time. I could quickly pull information off of TLT to make these two given some of our past projects, but I am just mow starting to really dive into the facts and figures of the opioid crisis.

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real talk sexual violence brochure page 2

real talk sucide brochure page 1

real talk suicide brochure page 2