How I Write About Rape

My first two books deal with sexual abuse and recovery. Sometimes I have to write about rape in present and past tense.

1 out of every 6 women in the United States has been raped or experienced an attempted rape.  3% of men have experienced rape and attempted rape. Victims are statistically more likely to experience depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicide attempts, and a plethora of other psychopathologies. In case there was any doubt in your mind, it’s a terrible thing to have to go through. Some victims never get over it.

A recent study indicated that 6% of men are rapists. Most of those are violent, repeat offenders who rape an average of 5.8 women.

I have to assume that a book about sexual assault will appeal not only to victims and the people who care for them, but also rapists.

As part of my research I came across a rape kit video which demonstrated, in detail, how to collect DNA samples from a female rape victim’s body. It was a training video created professionally for professionals in the medical field. But it was visually explicit and could easily be misused despite the intent of the creators. The same is true for books. The author can not control the response of readers, to a certain extent.

I am very careful, when writing about rape, that I hold the victims of the rape in my mind more vividly than I do the perpetrators. To me, the perpetrators’ point of  view is trash which can be thrown away like rotten fruit. It may be true that rapists are aroused by rape, whether by their control over the victim or some other aspect of the attack. Their arousal may be a fact, but it is still trash in my point of view. Rapists’ motivations, desires, arousal, and pleasure will not be represented honestly in my stories for this reason alone: I don’t want rapists to enjoy my rape scenes. If you are one, do not come to my book looking for a representation of your feelings. I’m not feeding you.

Let’s make this clear: I am writing this blog post to speak for myself as a writer and the work I produce. I am not trying to set a mandate. My purpose is to let readers know what to expect from my books on a subject which might be triggering.

Yes, my books are emotionally difficult to read because they get to the heart of what it is like to suffer through the aftermath. Yes, some parts may be triggering because I do include scenes with assaults. But, 1 in 6 women and 3% of men are trying to get over the worst moments of their attack. There is often a moment when memories are blocked for survival. I try to give the readers this same space in my writing, a space I hope will allow for as much as readers can handle and no more.

Rape is a sexual, physical, psychological, and emotional assault. After an attack, everything sexual or intimate may be triggering for the victim, even if it’s with someone safe who loves them. The stories I write center around the picking up of pieces, not the act of tearing them apart. The rape scenes are no place to wax lyrical about sexual details. The place for such intimate prose is in my characters’ journey toward healing.

I hope this helps set proper expectations for what you will find when reading Winter Seedlings. Its sequel will be out this winter. Both are very intense books which aren’t easily forgotten, but they intentionally were not written for everyone.

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9 thoughts on “How I Write About Rape

  1. Thanks for your perspective on this. I’m writing about a man who suffered childhood sexual abuse and cannot be intimate with the woman he loves because of it. Scenes in my book could be highly triggering and I haven’t really thought about the responsibility of that. Now that I will be going through revision, I will keep the victims and rapists (as readers) in mind.

    How do you feel about putting a warning on the blurb? I think I might consider doing something like that.

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    • Winter Seedlings’ main character had a similar problem. It was very enjoyable to write her through her transformation, though tearful at times. Good luck in your writing. It sounds like it could be a very moving story.

      I’m glad this post was helpful with perspective. I didn’t want it to sound like there is only one way to write about the subject of rape. I think it’s important for readers who have been victims of sexual assault to know the angle the book will take and how explicit it will be about certain things. When writing to inform the general public about what it is really like to be raped, I can see how details would serve a purpose. But if the book is intended for readers who share the experience of being raped, certain details are not as necessary… and it’s always nice to see the rapists’ weaknesses more than their strengths (that is just my opinion).

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  2. Excellent post. I love meeting other authors who try to write responsibly about rape. I’m working on my second book that deals with rape, but while my first book focused on the victims, this time I’m interested in the back story about the rapist. It’s interesting to me because many rapists don’t consider themselves to be rapists. Did you hear about the study where several college guys were interviewed, and asked questions like “Have you ever coerced a girl to have sex with you: using emotional blackmail, pushing her down, etc?”

    Many answered yes, but didn’t consider themselves rapists when asked. Why? Because rapists are (supposedly) creepy guys who hide in bushes waiting to pounce on joggers and never attack people they actually know. It was eye-opening and inspiration to me, a survivor of one of those “grey rape” incidents: a he-said, she-said where the girl says one thing and the guy claims he did nothing wrong. Maybe it’s unhealthy, but I’m interested in what makes guys like that tick. Guys who grew up in “good” homes and are well-liked, and may very well be narcissists who simply aren’t used to hearing the word “no.”

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    • Tread carefully with the “simply aren’t used to hearing the word ‘no'”. There are a lot of girls from those exact same homes, narcissistic girls, but they are much less likely to rape than the boys. So there is a cause, but I don’t believe it has to do with affluenza. You may want to take a look at this in relation to these kinds of boys: http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/05/us/texas-affluenza-teen/

      It’s a wonderful thought exercise to try to figure out what is in the minds of every character, as well as every person in our real lives. I try to assess why people do what they do. But it’s very easy to cross over into excusing bad behavior. I think it’s possible to make this type of story work, though, if you are careful not to imply that the victims themselves should feel less violated or that there should be less concern for the prevalence of this type of rape. You have to be certain of the purpose you have in writing the story and what you want readers to take away, because there will likely be an effect. It’s a touchy subject.

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      • I completely understand that my books are bound to offend people. And the “affluenza” piece is only a small part of what drives my male rapist character to do what he does. My point is that rape takes on many forms, and it’s true that some men who are rapists don’t see themselves as such, because the media tends to define rape as something that happens between strangers, that often leaves victims bloody, battered, and broken.

        In telling this story I’m also giving the victims of this kind of assault a voice, and a chance to explain. That being said, it is a book that will touch many nerves, but that’s why I always enlist the help of several beta readers to let me know if I’m on the right track. If you’re concerned about whether I’m handling this topic responsibly though, I’d be happy to send you a sample.

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      • I can see where you are coming from here and I think it helps to shine a light on the less-known form of rape. One of the characters in Winter Seedlings experiences something similar and isn’t sure if it even counted as sex. The fact that it was actually rape did not hit her for years later, even though her life was never the same after that. So, it is entirely possible for both people involved to not be sure of what just happened, and yet for it to be traumatic at the same time.

        If you want me to take a look at a sample, I would be glad to do it. I know I would just be one small voice in the mix of your beta readers. No book should ever please everybody.

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      • Yeah it does suck when several well-respected betas give contradictory suggestions :/ But I focus on the suggestions they all have in common. The experience in your book sounds a lot like what happened to me. *Adds to TBR list*

        What’s your email address?

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  3. What an excellent dialog! 🙂

    I was molested by my older brother from age 3 through 7. I am 41 now, and I have had to come to terms with the fact that I don’t have a normal view of intimacy because of the trauma I endured. Being a gay man who was abused by a male relative carries a whole different set of baggage with it. With the help of a therapist and my partner of 17 years I have made tremendous progress, but it will always an issue for me.

    I thank all of you ladies for exploring this topic with grace and discretion.

    Liked by 1 person

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