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Sunday Reflections: When the Discussion of College Rape is More Reality Than Statistics


When I sent my daughter off to college this fall as a freshman, I was very well aware of the statistical truth of college rape in the abstract. I sent her with a black belt in self defense, pepper spray, Plan B, and more prayers than it seems like a person can pray in a normal 24 hour day. But I was not prepared for the reality of college campus rape to hit so close to home. Please note before continuing, my daughter is okay. But someone’s daughter is not.

On Tuesday morning of last week I woke up with a string of texts from Riley that said things like, “if you see the news it’s not me, I am okay.” Which I imagine was met to be reassuring but really just caused a panic. After a bit I was able to touch base with Riley and learned that someone on campus – specifically in my daughter’s college freshman dorm – had been raped in their room. And since I follow news about my kid’s college she knew I would see it and freak out. Which I did.

First, I want to say that my heart breaks for the young person who was the victim of this horrific crime. Their life is forever changed and I hope that the person that did this to them is held responsible to the full extend of the law. Unfortunately, we know from history that this will likely not happen. I know nothing about this case and don’t want to speak on it because it’s not my story to tell. However, I do want to talk about what it is like to be a student and the parent of a student on a college campus where something like this has happened.

As I mentioned, I was not unaware of the reality of rape on college campuses – in the abstract. I was also not prepared for this reality to come so close to home for my child and so soon after she has left the nest and started her journey as both a college student and an adult. This is a new level of fear.

I wish I could tell you that we were new to the idea of sexual violence but we are not. I myself am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, something I have talked frequently about here and I am very open with my two daughters about it because I want them to know what it is before it starts with them. Also, as a survivor, I am very aware that it has shaped parts of my personality and parenting decisions and I feel like it is helpful for them to know who I am and where I am coming from.

Sadly, Riley is also familiar with various forms of sexual harassment and abuse. The first time she was harassed was in middle school. The same is true for her younger sister, who started middle school this year. And most unfortunately, Riley has friends that have been abused in some truly horrific ways. It is unimaginably hard if not impossible to get daughters to college without knowledge or personal experience of sexual harassment and abuse.

I’m not going to lie, this is the aspect of college I was most afraid of. And now, here we are, there is an actual rapist on my daughter’s college campus and I don’t know if she’s safe. It is my understanding that this person has not been caught. But the thing is, this person is probably not the only one. It is interesting to note that although I can rattle off the statistic that 1 in 4 girls/women will be the victims of sexual violence, I can not tell you a statistic about how many men will be the perpetrators of sexual violence. And when I went looking for a statistic, it was much harder to find. We talk a lot about the victims and what they can do to stay safe or get help, but we talk very little about who the criminals are. We talk about sexual violence using a passive voice, a woman was raped on campus. But what about the person who did the raping?

When you look for information about sexual violence, it looks like this:

  • One of the most shocking facts about sexual assault is that approximately only 5% of sexual assault reports filed have been proven false.
  • 82% of all juvenile sexual assault victims are female.
  • 90% of adult rape victims are female.
  • 41% of sexual assaults against Native Indians are committed by a stranger.
  • Adolescents aged 14‐17 were by far the most likely to be sexually victimized; nearly one in six (16.3%) was sexually victimized in the past year. (source: https://legaljobs.io/blog/sexual-assault-statistics/)

Or this:

  • 82% of all juvenile victims are female. 90% of adult rape victims are female.6
  • Females ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.3
  • Women ages 18-24 who are college students are 3 times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence. Females of the same age who are not enrolled in college are 4 times more likely.7 (source: https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence)

But very seldom do you hear us talk about who is committing acts of rape and how they are being held accountable. I found this statement, which floored me: Most perpetrators of sexual violence are men, so why do we talk about it as a women’s issue and not a man’s issue. (source: https://www.dividedstatesofwomen.com/2017/11/2/16597768/sexual-assault-men-himthough)

Even I, a person who has long advocated for changes in the ways we talk about sexual violence, found myself on the phone with my daughter telling her all the things she should do to keep her safe. Before she left for college her grandmother even looked at her and said, don’t take drinks from strangers and don’t go to places alone. The focus is always on what the victims are doing, wearing, going, etc. And the statistics are always about who the victims are. Everything about the way we talk about rape is wrong.

Someone is committing all of these rapes. We need to be talking about that. And honestly, a lot of women do. There are things called whisper networks for a reason. And I have spent both of my children’s lifetimes telling them to trust their guts and not give people the benefit of the doubt if their alarm bells were going off. We talk about things like watching how a boy/man jokes, how he responds to failure or boundaries or simply to the word no, and the signs of an unhealthy relationship.

It’s horrifying to know that it’s the year 2021 and we’re still sending our daughters to college with fear in our hearts that they will be raped. It’s only our first semester in college and already, the reality is so much realer than I could have ever imagined. My heart aches for our daughters.

Sunday Reflections: On Watching TV as a Woman

Please note, this post will discuss sexual assault and violence. It will also share spoilers for The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix and The Maze Runner movie


This past few weeks, the girls and I were watching The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. For those of you who may not know about this series, it’s based on a book and it is set in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s about a young orphan girl who turns out to be a chess prodigy. It’s a remarkably good series in a lot of ways. I recommend it. But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

Early in the series, the main character, Beth Harmon, is sent to live in an orphanage. At one point she is asked to go to a basement to clean the erasers – which those of us old enough to remember will recall means hitting them together to expel the chalk dust. In the basement there sits a man playing a game of chess.

I almost stopped watching the series in this moment because my anxiety went off the chart because I knew, this man was going to sexually assault this little girl. And in a lot of movies or tv shows, and sadly in a lot of real life, that is 100% what would have happened. Thankfully, that is not what happens here. In fact after several visits to the basement, in which this man never assaults her, he finally relents and teaches her to play chess. He soon realizes that she is gifted and he becomes her champion.

I’ve thought a lot in the last few weeks about the anxiety I felt while watching this show. It is not the first time I have felt it.

When I watched the movie The Maze Runner, based on the books by James Dashner (and I had not read the books before watching the movie), I had a similar experience. The Mr. and I went to watch this movie and I remember distinctly the moment the lone female character is introduced to an environment where there are nothing but boys and immediately wanting to leave. I looked at my husband and said, “we have to go, they’re going to rape her.” I was wrong, but we talked a lot after this movie about what it is like as a woman to watch a movie like this. Even my husband, an arguably great man, admitted that he sadly felt that wasn’t realistic because in that scenario with those numbers, someone would have eventually assaulted her.

I’ve thought a lot about what it means to be a woman engaging with various forms of media, because it’s complicated.

Sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape are often used too casually for a lot of media. It sometimes feels like a lot of mystery and crime shows center this type of crime. And a lot of books, tv and movies use this as a female back story. As if the only way you can give a girl a backstory is to have her have been traumatized sexually. And I’ll be honest, I often resent it.

The flip side is that the reality is that far too many of us have indeed been somehow been traumatized sexually. Depending on what statistics you use, that number can be as high as every 1 in 4 of us. That’s 25% of the female population. And that doesn’t take into account things like being non-traditionally gendered, non binary, or transgender. It also doesn’t take into account things like casual catcalling, sexual harassment at work, etc. When we really start talking to our friends I find that I am hard pressed to find a female friend who hasn’t experienced some type of unwanted sexual attention, harassment or violence.

It’s true, as I have shared here, that I am a survivor of sexual assault. So I am sure that this influences the way that I perceive these situations when I sit down to watch television or a movie. But it’s also true that there are a whole lot of us out there who have experienced the same. When someone recently asked me about The Queen’s Gambit one of the things that I mentioned was how many times I thought the main character was going to be assaulted and then she wasn’t, and several other women in the replies said that they had felt the same and were pleasantly surprised.

So that’s where we are at in 2020. You have entire generations of women who experience this type of anxiety while watching a television show and being pleasantly surprised because for once, the young girl who is the main character wasn’t sexually assaulted. That’s what generations of unchecked and unpunished sexual assault have done to us. And quite frankly, I feel like it’s a pretty sad commentary about the state of our world and our media.

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


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


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.


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


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.

#SVYALit: Laurie Halse Anderson and Eric Devine talk about teaching Speak on NPR


Way back in 2014, which right now seems like a lifetime ago and in a different world, TLT hosted the Sexual Violence in YA Lit Project.  As part of this project, author and teacher Eric Devine wrote a post about teaching the book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson to his high school students. In the midst of the #MeToo movement and Kavanaugh hearings, author Laurie Halse Anderson and Eric Devine revisit this post and had a discussion on NPR about Speak, teens, and sexual violence. You can listen to that discussion here: https://www.npr.org/2018/09/30/653160035/teaching-high-school-students-about-sexual-assault-through-literature.

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

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault and Violence


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.


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.


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.


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.

Sunday Reflections: In Which The Teen Writes a Poem About Sexual Harassment


I know it’s been a rough week in a lot of ways for us all between the mix of politics and loss, but it was also a really rough week at the Jensen household because of everyone’s arch nemesis: sexual harassment.


On Friday, I received a text from my daughter explaining how angry she was about the sexual harassment she had received by a “friend” the night before. This friend got into her sports bag and took an item of hers and put it on himself. She asked for it back repeatedly and he refused. Finally, she approached him to take it back and he proceeded to say some sexual things to her that she says made her feel “scared” and “dirty”.

They are 15 years old. And I’m sad to say that this is not the first time she has experienced some type of sexual touching or harassment. But it is the first time that she has come to me so visibly shaken and expressed feeling scared and dirty. Scared and dirty. Scared and dirty. Scared and dirty. I just keep hearing this over and over again.

This is what sexual harassment does.

As we talked about it and processed it and tried to determine what we were going to do, she shared with me that she was so upset about it that she wrote a poem. She has given me permission to share that poem.

Are you done yet

Undressing me with your eyes?

Are you happy

Now that you’ve made me cry?


You’ve stared at me

It’s felt like hours

You’ve smiled smugly

Enjoying your power


It’s like you can’t see it

My hatred that churns

You can’t see the effect

That makes my skin burn


You make me sick with fear

But I won’t say a thing

I’m far too afraid

Afraid of what it will bring


I’ll keep my hatred inside

Put on a pretty smile

You’ll never see me break

My tears will stay in for a while

During our discussion of how she felt about what happened, she kept saying she didn’t want to do anything about it. At one point I said to her,” I know you don’t want him to get into trouble but he also needs to know that he can’t do this to others going forward.” To which she replied, “I’m not worried about him getting into trouble, I’m scared he’ll be angry and hurt me.” That was the moment the undid me because I am far too aware of how often boys and men do respond with violence and retribution in these instances. She’s not wrong.

As a mom and a woman, I’ve been incredibly angry and upset about these events, as you can imagine. I’ve seen this all play out over and over and over again in this world and my anger is compounded by the fact that this is my baby girl we’re talking about.

I don’t have any fancy resolution to this post. I don’t have a neat and clean way to wrap this post up. The truth is, this will keep happening. It will happen again to her. It will happen to her younger sister. It will happen to her best friends and worst enemies. It will keep happening until we find a way to seriously address the issues in our culture that allow this to keep happening. And we have to stop shrugging this off and protecting the boys and men who do this. We have to talk about the patriarchy and power and privilege and toxic masculinity and sexism and why we choose to protect men instead of their victims. We have to change the dynamics. All of them.

Until then, I’m just going to be over here raging because I had to listen to my daughter talk about how someone who was supposedly her friend made her feel scared and dirty.

I’m pretty mad at you right now world. I seriously am.

Sunday Reflections: Dear Writers, Women’s Stories Don’t Always Have to Involve Sexual Violence



The last day of school is a half day. The Teen comes home at Noon. It’s already almost 100 degrees outside and she had two finals on this last day. So she asks me if I want to join her in doing “important things”. In our home, this is code for laying in bed and watching tv together.

“Do you want to go do important things with me Mom?”, she asks.

Of course I do. This is where she tends to open up with me and we have some of our deepest, most profound talks. Thing 2 is an active, play outside kind of kid and doesn’t often partake, so these are some of the rare moments that we have alone. If I can, I’m all for doing “important things” with my kids because this time is passing quickly and I don’t want to miss a moment of opportunity.

So there we are, doing “important things.” We flip channels until we find something we may want to watch. On the screen, a woman is walking a lone on the desert. We pause, trying to figure out what this is and what’s happening. Suddenly, two men appear in a truck. They start talking to her. The Teen tenses.

“Do you think they’re going to rape her mom?”, she asks.

I can feel the The Teen growing more and more tense beside me.

“Mom, they’re going to rape her. You know they’re going to rape her. They always rape the woman,” she says.

The men are inviting the women into the truck. One man stands behind her.

The Teen is now in a state of panic.

“Mom, change the channel. They’re going to rape her.”

We changed the channel.

The movie we were watching was called It Stains the Sands Red. I don’t know if those men raped that woman or not, but I’ve been thinking a lot about that moment of doing “important things”. I can’t stop thinking about the tension in her body, the rising anxiety in her voice, both the fear and expectation that when those men walked onto the screen she clearly understood that those men were going to rape that woman. That’s what she has been conditioned to expect when she sees a man and a woman on the screen in anything other than a RomCom or Superhero movie.


I went to the theater to see The Maze Runner one afternoon when the kids were in school without having read the book first. I tried to read the book, but it just wasn’t my thing. But The Mr. was off and we wanted something to do so we went and saw the movie.

If you’re not familiar with the story, a group of teen boys are enclosed in a space with no adults that they can’t seem to escape. At first, there are nothing but boys. Then one day, a girl is deposited into the glade (I think that’s what they called it. The minute that girl was dumped into the glade, I became anxious. One girl in a sea of young men – she’s going to get raped I told The Mr.

She didn’t. But I was anxious the entire movie because it felt like she would. That she should. I walked out of that movie discussing with The Mr. that the movie was unbelievable not because of the science fiction elements of the story, but because a girl had been placed into a non-regulated group of boys and they didn’t rape her. That’s not what would happen, I argued. THAT was the thing that made the movie unbelievable for me, the knowledge that I knew and understand that in that situation, it was very unlikely that girl would actually be safe in that situation.

As a consumer of media, I have been conditioned to expect that those boys were going to rape that girl. And when they didn’t, it wasn’t that I was disappointed (I was in fact relieved), but I found it unbelievable.


A friend and I are trying to find a Netflix show to binge. We like to watch dark British mysteries and then, in general, mysteries.

We select one and it begins with a woman running naked on a beach. She is running for her life.

“Not this one,” we say.

We select another one and it begins with a woman running naked in a forest. She is running for her life.

“Not this one,” we say.

We select another one and it begins with a woman running naked down a street, on the beach, through the forest . . . it doesn’t matter. They are all beginning the same. A woman is running naked. She is beaten and bloody. She has no shoes. She keeps looking back over her shoulder.

You know that she is fleeing from someone who has or is attempting to rape her.

We binge watch a comedy because we can’t find a mystery or crime show this day that we haven’t seen that doesn’t involve sexual violence against a woman.


I’ve been thinking a lot about the stories we tell and how women are used in those stories. About how we conditioned by the media we engage in to expect and glance over sexual violence against women. I’ve been thinking about how young that begins and what it means for how we all view women in media and in the world.

I want to read and watch mysteries and thrillers that don’t always involve sexual violence against women. I NEED to be able to read and watch mysteries and thrillers that don’t always involve sexual violence against women.

I want my daughters to grow up in a world where they can see a man and a woman on the screen and not automatically get tense because they know that the man is going to rape the woman because that’s what always happens.

I want my daughters to grow up in a world where the boys in their lives haven’t been taught over and over and over again in the media that they consume that when a man and a woman are together in a room, the man is going to rape the woman. I want her to grow up surrounded by men who understand that women’s stories don’t always have to involve sexual violence against the woman.

Mysteries don’t always have to be about the rape and murder of a woman. That’s not creative. That’s not breaking any boundaries. We’ve done that, a lot.

There are so many more stories that could be written. Creative tales that don’t objectify, stereotype, or constantly put women in harms way.

We need different stories.

We need better stories.

We need mysteries and thrillers and contemporary dramas that show all the other ways in which women live, thrive, survive, fail and are harmed.

Women’s stories can be about more than sexual violence.

Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have any stories about sexual violence. Sexual violence is very real and we can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. It is harmful to pretend it doesn’t exist. We spend a lot of time here at TLT and I spend a lot of time personally advocating for a greater awareness and end to sexual violence against women (and men). We dedicate pages on this blog discussing how adults and educators can use YA literature to raise awareness of topics like consent, sexual violence and the long term effects of childhood trauma. This is not me saying that we should never acknowledge sexual violence against women on the page or on the screen.

Last night I finished reading an upcoming ya book, one of the best books I’ve read in 2018, arguably one of the best books I’ve read that really takes a deep dive into the world of sexual violence in the life of girls. It’s powerful, haunting and very, very necessary. It also doesn’t use sexual violence as a plot device; it mines the depths of sexual violence against girls to explore the short and long term impacts and the ways in which we talk about that violence against women. In this book, sexual violence isn’t an unnecessary plot device, it’s a real and horrific reality that is revealed so that the reader walks away thinking deeply about the impact of this violence on everyone involved. It’s not using sexual violence for the sake of entertainment, but it asks you to think long and hard about what happens to the girls in our world.

Another difference is that the author of this ya book is a woman writing about sexual violence against women as opposed to a man who is writing a mystery or a thriller who needs something to happen in a story so he goes straight to sexual violence. This author dives deep into the emotional impact, the trauma, that surrounds the topic of sexual violence against women as opposed to a man who is simply looking to fill a plot hole or looking to provide trite character motivation. I’ve followed this author on social media for years and have read almost all of her books and I know that she is a passionate advocate for women and that book and her other titles are motivated not by shock value but from a deeply passionate place of advocacy and awareness; she is a woman who wants to change our culture and seeks to help make that happen by tearing away the curtain that seeks to keep sexual violence against women in the dark or simply uses it for an easy and well worn plot device. This is a raw, frank and honest exploration of sexual violence and the darkness that surrounds it.

There is a difference in the ways that storytellers use sexual violence against women in their stories and what motivates them to tell those stories. As consumers, we have come to lazily accept sexual violence against women in our stories and we don’t often explore how it hurts us, men and women both. Of course it effects boys growing up with sexual violence used so casually and seemingly without consequence as a storytelling device. And of course it effects girls. There are no winners when sexual violence is an unexplored plot device. Sexual violence for the sake of sexual violence in our stories is not helping our conversations surrounding things like consent, #metoo, and feminism.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the tension, anxiety and stress that comes when you are a woman engaging with media. I’ve been thinking a lot about the casual acceptance of the ways that violence against women is used to propel a story forward and what it’s like for even young girls watching these stories. I’ve thought a lot about how already, at the age of 15, my teenage daughter understood how casual our storytellers are with using sexual violence against women as a storytelling device and how much anxiety it caused her as a young woman trying to engage with story.

If you are a storyteller, please think about the stories that you are telling and how you use sexual violence against women in those stories. What is your motivation for doing so? Can the story be told in a different way? What is the impact that your use of sexual violence has on our culture? Is it gratuitous? Does it appropriately reflect the true trauma that comes with being a victim of said sexual trauma?

If you are a storyteller, ask yourself, how will it effect the men and the women engaging with my story? How will it shape their view of women? How will it shape their view of women and their place in our world? How will the women engaging with my story feel about their sense of self and sense of place in our world? How will the men engaging with my story feel about women and view their sense of place in our world?

Stories told about women don’t have to be about sexual violence against women. We deserve to see ourselves on the page or on the screen exploring all the other aspects of our lives.

Even as a survivor of sexual violence myself, I want there to be a better balance in our stories. Yes, I want us to talk about and be realistic about sexual violence in the life of women. 1 in 4 women will be the victims of sexual violence. We have to talk about that. It’s a fact.

But I am more than just a survivor of sexual violence and my life story is about more than the sexual violence that happened to me. In the same way, stories about women need to be about more than sexual violence.

Tell different stories. Find different plot and character motivation. Give your stories more depth, more creativity.

Do better by the women in your stories.

I just want to do “important things” with my daughter and have more choices that don’t involve casual sexual violence against women.

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

Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence, Rape


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Sexual Harassment in KidLit

As a librarian, I don’t often feel genuinely a part of kid or yalit. I’m not an author. I’m not a publisher. I’m not an agent or an editor.


But I am someone who regularly talks about books and puts them into the hands of kids and teens. So these last few days, I have really sat with and thought about what is happening with the MeToo movement in kidslit. And more importantly, what is my response as a human being and as a librarian.

If you need some background, Anne Ursu wrote a post on Medium sharing the results of a survey she did regarding sexual harassment in kidlit publishing. (Sexual Harassment in the Childrens Book Industry Anne Ursu)

In addition, School Library Journal, with whom this blog is networked, shared a piece about sexual harassment in kidlist as well. Then sometime yesterday the comments exploded and people began naming names of their harassers and there were a variety of discussions had regarding sexual harassment. (http://www.slj.com/2018/01/industry-news/childrens-publishing-reckons-sexual-harassment-ranks/#_)

We as a nation and, really, as a culture, are wrestling with sexual harassment. It’s a discussion we should have been having all along, and it’s an uncomfortable one. The most necessary and most difficult conversations often are. But just because it’s messy and uncomfortable doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be having it.

Previous Posts:

MeToo: Teens, Libraries and Sexual Harassment

Things They Don’t Teach You in Library School: Sexual Harassment in Libraries

As a general rule of thumb, this is where I stand on the issues.

1. Believe the victims

As a survivor myself, I can assure that there is nothing to be gained by coming out as a victim. Even in the midst of the MeToo movement, victims are still shamed, ridiculed, questioned and reviled.

2. Practice the fine art of listening

This past week I have spent a lot of time reading and listening. Yes, even as a survivor myself, it’s still important to listen. Not everyone reacts the same way, not everyone feels the same way, not everyone thinks the same way.

3. Keep in mind that anyone can be a harasser and anyone can be a victim

Although it is true that women are victims far more often then men, and men are abusers far more often than woman, it is also true that anyone can be a victim/survivor and anyone can be a perpetrator. Sexual harassment happens regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, and religion. It happens regardless of where a person is, what they are wearing, or how much they have had to drink.

4. The abuser is always responsible for their behavior

When talking about sexual harassment and violence, it’s important to remember that ultimately, the abuser is always responsible for their actions, their choices. At some point, the abuser must make the decision to engage in the behavior. They and they alone are responsible for their choices.

5. Survivors don’t owe you their stories

If, how and when people choose to share their stories of harassment and abuse are totally up to the victims/survivors. We do not get to demand of them their stories. They have already been violated once, we do not need to violate them again by denying their personal autonomy and demanding that they answer our questions, share the details, etc. Even if their abuser goes on to abuse 100s of other people, they don’t owe anyone their stories and they are not responsible for any subsequent abuse. They get to process their trauma on their own terms and in their own time.

I also have seen some discussion about what this means for us as librarians who work with kids. And I think that it is a good question, one with which we will wrestle with for quite some time. I know that what I may choose to do personally or as a blogger is different than what I will chose to do as a professional librarian. I purchase and put in my collection every day books that I don’t agree with by people I don’t like because I am a public employee and as such I am not building a personal library, but a community one. To hold the title of public librarian comes with a lot of responsibility to a community that is larger than just me. I am bound by community standards, board adopted collection development policies, and the teens in which I have chosen to serve. So while someone may be named as a serial predator and I will personally chose to believe the victims, I will probably not be able to stop buying their titles for my library. It also means that if I have reason to suspect that my teens will not be safe in the presence of said author, I will chose to invite someone else to an event as a speaker.

As a librarian and a reader, I believe in the power of words. I believe that what we say and what we do matters and helps shape the world that we live in. I believe that every person deserves to walk through this world with a reasonable expectation of respect and safety. I am keeping all of this in mind as I listen to the conversations we are having and trying to figure out when, what and how to say something.

I also want to remind us all that teens today have access to these conversations that we are having. They are connected in ways that previous generations never were. They are connected with authors, with the larger kid/yalit community, and with the news. They see and hear us talking about consent, sexual violence, and sexual harassment. They are listening. They are learning. Now, more than ever, what we say and how we say it matters. We are not just reckoning with our past, but we are helping to shape the future in terms of these issues. What is happening matters.

#YAAtoZ: Consent in YA, a guest post by author Sara Baysinger

Welcome to February, where we are discussing the letters C and D as part of the #YAAtoZ Project. Today we’re talking consent with author Sara Baysinger.

For a complete look at the #YAAtoZ posts, go here.


Consent. It’s a loaded word with crystal clear meaning, yet somehow the lines still get blurred for *certain* people who don’t really care to see the lines at all due to their own selfish desires.

Let me clarify these lines for those who are confused.

When things get a little steamy between a boy and a girl, and the boy listens to a girl’s verbal and nonverbal cues, and when he asks her, “Is this ok?” even when he thinks he understands her verbal and nonverbal cues, and when she says she’s uncomfortable and he’s immediately hands-off until she’s ready—THAT. IS. CONSENT.

For more posts on consent, please visit the complete Sexual Violence in YA Lit (#SVYALit Project) Index


No assuming she’s into it just because he is.

No thinking that if given a moment, she’ll enjoy it.

No getting off for his own pleasure and thinking she’ll be fine when it’s over.

Consent is when both partners are seeking permission, and both partners are clearly granting that permission.

So what does this have to do with YA books? I’ll begin with my own experience.

I was a homeschooled kid, raised in a foreign country. I didn’t get out much, and with two older sisters, I didn’t know a whole lot about boys or how they work. That is, until I found books. Books with swoony romance. Books with bad guys and good guys. Books that showed me that as long as the guy is a good, God-fearing man, the woman should do whatever he tells her.

Did you just get triggered by that last line?

Me, too.

Unfortunately, it’s true. Being homeschooled in a conservative household, I only had access to a few books by certain authors. And I’m not going to shine a spotlight on these books, because that’s not the point of this blog. But while my parents did not raise me in a patriarchal household, the books I read certainly did steer me down that road, where the road signs say a wife should be submissive to her husband, and a man has dominance over a woman—as long as—again—he’s a God-fearing man.

It wasn’t until years after high school that I woke up and realized we’re all equal, and a man has NO SAY WHATSOEVER in a woman’s preferences, discomforts, or choices, especially in something as important as sex.


And then I started reading more books that I usually wouldn’t have read as a teen. And I found stories that promote feminism and equality. I found books where the man respects the woman’s choices. Where Rhysand loves Feyre, but never pushes her to be with him until she verbally and nonverbally makes it known to him that she wants him. Where Warner backs off from Juliette completely until she verbally and nonverbally makes it known to him that she wants him. And then I was able to write about Kalen (from The Vanishing Spark of Dusk), who never pushes Lark into anything intimate until she verbally and nonverbally makes it known to him that she wants him.

Books teach us about life, even fiction books. Especially fiction books. They influence us. They pull us through life-changing experiences that all happen inside our heads. And YA books that cover consent—they teach us how important it is to listen to our inside voices. They teach us to listen our bodies, heed our intuition, and respect the boundaries of ourselves and our partners.

Ultimately, they teach us when to use consent. (Spoiler alert: ALWAYS).

From Concordia University in Texas http://www.concordia.edu/page.cfm?page_ID=3142

From Concordia University in Texas

And while I regret the brainwashing of the books I read earlier on in my teen years, I’m glad I found books that taught me that it’s perfectly okay to say no.

About The Vanishing Spark of Dusk:

Stand up.

When Lark is stolen from Earth to be a slave on the planet Tavdora, she’s determined to find her way back home to her family, no matter the cost. Placed in the household of a notorious slave trader, Lark quickly learns her best assets are her eyes and ears. And if she’s brave enough, her voice.

Be heard.

Kalen is the Tavdorian son of a slave trader and in line to inherit his father’s business. But his growing feelings for Lark, the new house slave who dares to speak of freedom, compel him to reveal his new plan for the slave ships returning to Earth—escape. Together, they just might spark a change that flares across the universe.

Fight back.

Buylinks: https://entangledpublishing.com/the-vanishing-spark-of-dusk.html


About Sara Baysinger:



Sara was born in the heart of the Andes Mountains in Ecuador where she spent her early life exploring uncharted lands and raising chickens. She now makes her home among the endless cornfields of Indiana with her husband and two children…and she still raises chickens. Her dystopian novel BLACK TIGER was self-published in 2016. When not getting lost in a book, Sara can be found gardening, devouring chocolate, and running off the sugar-high from said chocolate. You can visit her online at www.sarabaysinger.com.


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