Often times controversial and highly politicized, it's crucial to remember why books about sexual assault are important to read: they tell real, all too commonly ignored stories that help shed the unfair stigmas of victimization and spread awareness for the growing normalization of rape culture in our country.
There are a lot of reasons people write about painful, real-life events like sexual assault and rape. Some authors are working through their own pain, and tell their stories as an attempt to help heal themselves. Other authors use their experiences as a vehicle for activism and as a call to action for the readers, the media, and the government. And, sadly, it's true that some books are published as a thinly veiled attempt to exploit pain for financial gain, and even more sadly, it's this aspect of sexual assault memoirs that gets the most attention.
But the truth is, sexual assault memoirs are powerful tools for understanding, critical thinking, and healing.
As a victim of sexual assault myself, I know how hard it is to talk about my experiences, let alone read about someone else's trauma. Reliving the pain and fear associated with my own past, even in the context of someone else's story, can make me feel like I'm being traumatized all over again. There's a reason the term "trigger warning" exists: because there are just some images, some stories, that are too painful to have imprinted on people all over again. When victims of sexual assault decide to share their stories, they do so not to make others feel badly, or to inflict pain on people who have already (or perhaps never) experienced for themselves. Often times, they do it because it's a story they have to tell, and doing so has the power to save not only the writers themselves, but readers, too.
While I will be the first to admit they are hard to read, maybe even impossible to stomach for some people, I can't overlook these five reasons why sexual assault memoirs are important to read.
1. The problem exists, whether we ignore it or not.
It's often easier to look away from the ugliest parts of humanity than it is to confront it, but turning a blind eye to sexual assault, rape, and other acts of sexualized violence won't make the epidemic go away. In fact, ignoring it and pretending that it doesn't exist will only make the problem worse.
Memoirs about sexual assault put a spotlight on a serious problem that one in five women experience in their lifetime. The only way to stopping the problem is to first acknowledge that they exist and admit that they are a serious problem facing not only our country, but the entire world.
2. Books about sexual assault give a much-needed voice to victims.
One of the major problems in America's now standardized rape culture is that too much attention is paid to the perpetrators of sexual violence, and not enough attention is given to the victims of their abuse. Often times, victims are misunderstood, unfairly judged, and even blamed for being involved in sexual assault cases. Their lives are torn apart, their character is called into question, and their sense of safety and support is all too often ripped away from them when it's needed most.
Memoirs about sexual assault turn the tables on this victim blaming culture, and puts the power of truth in the hands of the person it should: the survivor of the crime. Through their own voice, sexual assault victims can challenge the unfair stereotypes about people who are assaulted, and share the story that really matters: their own.
3. They challenge the stigmas and stereotypes around sexualized violence.
When you think of a rapist, what do you picture? For most people, perpetrators of sexual assault appear as hooded strangers hiding behind bushes in their nightmares, but the truth is, they can be anyone, anywhere. Sexual assault is often committed by friends, family, and or someone else the victim knows, and it is one of the most misunderstood violent crimes facing our population today.
Sexual assault memoirs work to breakdown this misunderstandings, dispel the most common misconceptions surround sexual assault, including the victims and the perpetrators, and shed light on the truth at the heart of these matters. They're powerful stories serve as proof that "good guys" can do very bad things, that victimization have nothing to do with the way a person dresses or their prior sexual history, and that standardized sexual violence is anything but "boys being boys."
4. They shows us all the places we're failing, and help us see what we can do better.
There are so many occasions that readers of sexual assault memoirs find themselves cringing, and not just because of the graphic content, but because of the frequent miscarriages of justice that plague sexual assault criminal cases. Police officers and other law officials are seen questioning the truth of a victim's statement, the media is exposed for the way it can judge the victim and praise the perpetrators, and everyday people's unconscious tendency to handle sexual assault with sexist-colored glasses on becomes clearer and clearer with each new true story.
Sexual assault memoirs might not be able to solve the epidemic, but they can call attention to the ways they we as a nation are failing to make any real progress. These powerful stories can be a wake-up call that gets people not only thinking, but acting.
5. They're a powerful call to action.
Whether you're a victim of sexual assault yourself, a loved one of someone who is, or someone who has been lucky enough to escape the statistics, it's impossible to read a memoir about sexual assault and not feel enraged. Often times, these books ask readers to take that anger and frustration and turn it into real action.
Sexual assault memoirs aren't just sob stories or venting sessions, they're true tales of a horrible kind of crime that takes place everyday in our country, and they're personal pleas to put a stop to it, once and for all.