Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Sexual Violence in YA Literature Hangout Wrap Up

About two hours ago I hosted my first ever Google Hangout on Air to (mostly) non-disastrous effects.  I’ll have to write you a post about what I learned about doing that some other time.  But what I really want to talk about is the conversation that I had with authors Christa Desir, Trish Doller and Carrie Mesrobian about their books, sexual violence in culture and in ya literature, and more.

You can see the entire conversation here in the embedded clip below.  There are a few technical hiccups, but it was a really good conversation.  I suggest listening to the audio and not watching the video itself as it freezes in a couple of places.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0q-3qXsB_9I?rel=0]

About our Authors:
Carrie Mesrobian is the Morris Award finalist of Sex & Violence.  Sex & Violence is the emotional story of Evan, once a player who sets out on a journey of healing and self-evaluation after a traumatic – and almost deadly – experience.

 Christa Desir is an activist, editor and the author of FaultlineFaultline is the story of a girl (Ani) who was gang raped at a party and how her boyfriend, Ben, deals with his guilt and feelings in the aftermath.

Trish Doller is the author of many YA books, including Where the Stars Still Shine. Where the Stars Still Shine is the story of Callie. After being kidnapped by her mother as a child, Callie is returned to a family that she never really knew about and struggles with the various feelings she has about her childhood, including some sexual abuse that she experienced. It also deals with mental illness.

Some of the Highlights:

All three books have a very different perspective on the topic.  

Christa was a rape victim advocate.  She set out to tell the story from the point of view of Ben because she wanted to show how sexual violence affects others involved in the victims life and not just in the immediate aftermath but in the long time aftermath.

In Trish’s research, she learned that some people respond to sexual violence by trying to take control of their sexuality and find a more fulfilling sexual experience by pursuing many different sexual relationships.  (This is also the reaction in Faultline).  It is important to recognize that there are multiple ways that survivors respond to being a victim of a sexual crime.  All reactions are valid and we should approach them and respond with compassion.

As in Faultline, Sex & Violence also looks at the trauma of outside parties not directly involved in the rape.

Carrie talks in detail about how our current culture teaches boys to think about both woman and sex and how it is important that we talk more openly about sex because when we fail to it can allow dysfunction to grow.  We need to let boys know that it is normal to have sexual feelings so that they can talk openly and develop healthy sexual feelings and talk more openly about consent.

Christa wanted to engage boys in the conversation about sexuality and consent.  It was important that Ben was not a hero.  She wanted the discussion about the after effects to be part of the discussion.  Boys need to be involved more in the conversations about consent and sexual violence.  They need to know that men can be involved in ya literature about sexual violence and not have to be the perpetrator.

Trish began talking about the comments she has received and our tendency towards slut shaming and victim blaming.  Great quote: “Sexual abuse victims already feel shame, they don’t need more shame by being judged for the way they choose to recover.”  Christa added to this idea that we need to remove the judgment in survivors, even when we are reviewing books with sexual violence, and approach victims – always – with compassion.

Trish had presents a great discussion about the idea of “throw away girls” and how it adds to girls self perception and rape culture.  The dialogue needs to continually affirm the value of all people.

You really need to listen Carrie discussing Male and Female sexuality and slut shaming around 20:50.  And Christa added some good insight about the double standard towards guys who don’t want to be sexual conquerors.  We need to have broader categories, be more accepting, of people for being whoever they are at the time.  Carrie added that there is research called Challenging Casanova that indicates that most me,n whether straight or gay, want to be in one relationship.

All the authors agreed that it is important to have more open discussions about sex and sexual violence to help create more healthy approaches to sex.  Carrie has a great discussion about privacy around 30 minutes.  Here, she says, it where dysfunction hides.

Christa points out that rape victims can be any age, race, or gender.  There is nothing that puts you at risk and nothing that makes you safe.  Someone in your life will be a victim of sexual violence and you might be the person in their life that they choose to share with.  Christa says, “The moral of the story is have a conversation.”

If you don’t watch the whole video, do listen to what Carrie, Christa and Trish have to say around the 1 minute mark about entitlement, street harassment, and the slippery slope into sexual violence. We end our discussion by having a discussion about using rape responsibly in YA lit and discussing how the entitlement that our culture suggests we have can lead to sexual violence, street harassment and rape culture.  It also influences the way we feel about our selves and how we move about in our world. So profound this ending of the conversation.

Karen’s Closing Thoughts:

One of the questions I asked was about the response of parents, educators, social workers, etc. to their books.  The truth is, many parents and educators want to pretend that teenagers don’t think about sex, but biology is not in our favor here. For all teens, by the time they enter into high school (and for many it begins much earlier), those hormones kick in and they are in fact thinking about – and some of them are having – sex.  Pretending that it doesn’t happen and refusing to talk about it doesn’t keep them safe, but having honest discussions can.  And it can help them process their feelings and develop healthy sexual identities.  I get the fear, trust me, I am a mom.  But as Carrie mentioned, talking to your child about the circus typically doesn’t result in them running off to join the circus and talking to our teens about sex, sexual safety, and even sexual violence probably isn’t going to make them decide to become sexually active.  But giving them correct information can help them make better decisions.

The other reasons books like these authors are important is that it can help us all to develop empathy.  As Trish mentioned, there is not one way that a person responds to sexual violence.  Having multiple stories can help us in many ways:  It can help us see the signs before it happens, it can help us develop empathy and respond in compassionate ways to those we encounter in our lives that have been subjected to sexual violence, and it can help take those things that are done in the dark into the light so that it happens less because now we as a culture are knowledgeable and informed and we don’t let perpetrators hide in dark shadows.  And if someone commits an act of sexual violence against another person, it is always their fault.  As Christa mentioned, THERE IS NO BUT.

There is a scene in Where the Stars Still Shine that is just brilliant to me in highlighting survivor feelings and triggers.  Callie is in the process of getting intimate with the boy who is genuinely attentive and safe; he cares about her needs.  But the staging of the moment triggers her memory and she tells him what he needs to do to make the moment safe for her.  It is such an effective and poignant scene.

Sex & Violence is such a profound journey of both physical and emotional healing as Evan re-evaluates how he has perceived women and sex.  It reminds me so much of early Chris Crutcher, like Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, which is the highest compliment I have.

Faultline will gut you when you realize what happens to Ani.  I so admire Christa for making us think not only about how rape affects the victim, but about how it affects those who love the victim.  You can really see her experience as an advocate coming through in the way she shares this story and the depth of emotion that is portrayed.

I also mentioned the new title The Gospel of Winter for a look at the grooming aspect of sexual abuse.

I also discusses Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama and how it made me think about the issue of Street Harassment.

I want to give a special thanks to our authors for their time and thoughtful discussion.

Resources Mentioned:

The Gift of Fear and Protecting the Gift by Gavin DeBecker

Talking about using sexual violence responsibly in literature:
A Discussion of Using Rape as a Plot Device
Jaclyn Friedman post about using rape as a plot device
Maggie Steifvater discusses Literary Rape

Carrie Mesrobian has some good resources and a list of recommended titles on her blog today as well

Christa Desir also wrote about the chat yesterday on her blog in this important post

More on Sexual Violence and YA Lit at TLT:

What It’s Like for a Girl: How Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama made me think about the politics of sexuality in the life of girls
Sexual Assault Awareness Month, talking to teens about consent and rape part 1 and part 2
Should there be sex in YA books? 
Plan B: What Youth Advocates Need to Know 
Because No Always Mean No, a list of books dealing with sexual assault
Who Will Save You? Boundaries, Rescue and the Role of Adults in YA Lit.  A look at consent and respecting boundaries in relationships outside of just sex. 
Incest, the last taboo 
This is What Consent Looks Like
Street Harassment
That Time Matt Smith Perpetuated Street Harassment Culture at Comic Con
An Anonymous Letter to Those Who Would Ban Eleanor and Park
Take 5: Difficult books on an important topic (sexual violence)   
The Curios Case of the Kissing Doctor and Consent 
Book Review: The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely
Take 5: Sexual Violence in the Life of Boys


  1. Podcast idea is EXCELLENT—i'd subscribe/tune in. Liking the videocast too

Speak Your Mind