But I think I need to. Because there's a book out there being called soft pornography and filth by a man who wants it yanked from high school libraries and curriculum in the name of Christianity, and I have to disagree.
The book is SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson and it tells the story of a high school girl who is raped and chooses to remain silent about the horrible thing that has happened to her. The man objecting to the book is Dr. Wesley Scroggins, a resident of Rebulic, Missouri who published an opinion letter in the newspaper decrying several things included in the public school education in Republic. After calling the book soft-pornography, he says,
"This is a book about a very dysfunctional family. Schoolteachers are losers, adults are losers and the cheerleading squad scores more than the football team."He goes on to object to the two rape scenes included in the book. I can understand his point. Rape is a tough thing to think about. A tough thing to imagine happening to someone you care about. To you.
But here's the truth. Rape happens to girls in high school and younger all the time. Ignoring it, silencing it, refusing to look at the terrible consequences doesn't make it go away. I'm a Christian and am passionate about my faith, and I cringe when I see things like this because there's a difference between being outspoken about SINS, like rape, and being outspoken against something that might help the victims.
And this is the part of this post that has me feeling like maybe throwing up would be preferable to typing, but I'm a big girl now and it's time to exercise my right to speak.
I'm a rape survivor. I can't remember the first time I was raped because most of my childhood from before my eleventh birthday is now a murky, shadowy haze of submerged memories I've long since stopped trying to access. The memories I do have of the abuse I consistently suffered at the hands of my grandfather are bad enough. I don't need the ones my brain decided were too difficult to hang on to.
We moved from Oregon to California soon after the truth of my grandfather's actions came to light. Before that, though, he confessed to the cops, I went before a Grand Jury, and the consequence was that he was given six months of state-paid-for counseling. That's six more than they gave to me. His reputation remained intact. His marriage remained intact. His job remained intact.
I, on the other hand, was absolutely shattered. And I'd just learned, once again, that he had the power. And that no one would come to my aid and make it right.
Junior High was hell. I know it's hell for most kids, but please trust me when I say that it was HELL for me. I didn't know how to be a normal girl. I didn't know how to protect myself from threats I felt sure where all around me. I had this horrible, dark emptiness inside me that felt like it would swallow me whole if I ever looked it in the eye, so I didn't. I threw myself into activities, frantically staying as busy as possible. When I wasn't busy, I was lying on my bed, curled in on myself, trying to understand what had happened to me. Trying to figure out how to feel normal, or at least how to act like it. Because the secret shame I carried with me was a weight so heavy, I always felt one tiny step away from sinking beneath it forever.
I had no friends. Really. The few relationships I managed to make dissolved within months because I was different. Secretive. Still bleeding and junior high is an arena full of sharks. I didn't know how to make small talk. I didn't know how to talk about boys. I didn't know how to be anything other than damaged and broken. And I never saw anyone else struggling like me.
Once, when I scraped up the courage to share my story with someone, I was quickly the topic of gossip. Most of which involved speculation that I was a slut and dissected what I wore each day to confirm their opinion that if I was going to wear jeans that tight, I must have asked for it. See? Sharks with blood in the water.
When I went to high school, I made the decision to hide who I really was. I stuffed the pain, the broken pieces, into that dark, icy emptiness inside me and put on a show. I was the funny girl. The understanding girl. The one who would listen to your problems all day, as long as you didn't ask me to share any of mine. I went as deep as boys and school stress with my friends and no deeper. Because I'd learned. Rape was a four letter word that made me an outcast. A pariah. A leper with a scarlet A branded to my chest for something people seemed to think I must have brought upon myself.
By the time I was a sophomore, I was involved in an abusive relationship with a boy who got angry with me over imagined infractions, threatened rape as a consequence for things like not answering the phone within two rings when he called, and shoved me onto the ground if I dared question his behavior. I took it all because I thought I deserved nothing better. I hid everything he did from my friends too, because it was important to be normal. Too look unbroken even as I was convinced something like that would never be true for me. A few months into that relationship, I stopped eating more than a piece of toast and a juice box each day. I took diet pills like they were candy. I smiled, laughed, joined every extra curriculum activity I could, placated my boyfriend, took more pills, smiled some more, and at every cost, avoided telling most people I was the victim of rape.
In fact, I stopped thinking of myself as a victim. I don't know what word I would give it, but it was a combination of loathing and despair. Maybe I had brought it on myself. Maybe it was my fault. Maybe the way my family had imploded could've been avoided if I'd been smarter, more able to say no, better able to handle the secret on my own rather than let the truth slip back when I was ten.
As I told you, I'm a Christian. I was a Christian then too. And the few youth leaders who encountered me then didn't know what to do with me. Rape wasn't something you talked about. A girl who would sacrifice her body to her boyfriend to avoid his anger because she didn't think her body had any worth anymore wasn't a subject anyone knew what to do with. I felt like I was constantly out of step with the world around me and after a while, I was convinced I would never figure out how to make it right.
Near the end of my senior year, I finally broke it off with my abusive boyfriend. He began stalking me, waiting for me outside my workplace, driving up to my house and standing outside my window at 3 in the morning. I was scared. But more than scared, I was just tired. So tired. Of trying to be something I wasn't. Of pretending I could ever clean myself up enough. Scrub off the shame and the labels and finally figure out who I was originally created to be before my grandfather's sin shattered my life. One night, I became convinced all it would take to heal my family and make everything right was my death. I didn't even really sit and think about it. The idea felt so right to me, I just got up at 2 a.m., walked downstairs, opened a new bottle of ibuprofen, and shook a huge handful out. I figured if I died in my sleep, it would be easiest on my parents. No mess to clean up. Just a peaceful exit to a life I didn't really want anymore.
My dad, who is a hard sleeper, came downstairs just before I tossed the mouthful of pills down my throat and asked me what I was doing. I told him I had a headache, slid all but two of the ibuprofen back into the bottle, and went back upstairs. I didn't feel like I'd escaped anything. I didn't feel disappointed either. In fact, I barely knew how to feel anything at all. The black, gaping numbness inside me had nearly taken over. I was a shell who knew how to go through all the motions.
I went to Pepperdine University that fall and promised God I would actually spend time getting to know Him. And that I wouldn't date again until I knew he was the man I was going to marry. I no longer had any faith in my own screwed up instincts. I'd always seen God as a distant, judgement-delivering entity who must be obeyed but who had no idea how badly I hurt inside. He gently began showing me that instead of keeping his distance from the leprous rape victim, He was holding me and crying along with me.
I still had a long way to go. I had to get counseling for multiple personality disorder. And just a few years ago, I entered treatment for post traumatic stress disorder. I'm not whole yet. I know that. But I'm married to a man who asked me to be his wife even while he realized I had a multiple personality and he's never wavered in his love and commitment to me. I'm surrounded by a community of Christians who openly talk about the harsh, crappy stuff that sometimes hits us and who aren't afraid to be totally authentic about where they are. I've learned how to push my secrets out into the light where they can start to heal.
Maybe SPEAK isn't Dr. Scroggins' cup of tea. Maybe the idea of having his children read about a highly dysfunctional family is upsetting. Maybe the thought of having rape be a terrible reality in the life of the book's main character offends him. That's his right. But for every child who is blessed with a non-dysfunctional home and who hasn't been broken by something as awful as rape, there's another girl like me. A girl who can't find the words to describe how shattered she feels. Who doesn't even know if she has the right to feel shattered. Who's learned that bringing her secrets to the light results in more pain. That girl needs books like SPEAK to be on the shelves. She needs to know there are others out there like her. She needs to see someone else's path so she can have the language to start thinking about her own outcome.
As a Christian and a rape survivor, I want SPEAK to stay on the shelves. And I want others to write books about rape. Incest. Child abuse. Eating disorders. Multiple personality disorder. Post traumatic stress disorder. Because those are just as real, just as present, for some kids as worrying about grades and peer pressure are for others. Books can give children the language they need to be able to describe themselves and the things they're facing. To silence the book could be to silence the child.
I've had enough silence. Have you?
Author Veronica Roth has an incredible post that sums up how I feel even better than I managed to do myself.