DISCUSSION: Sexual Assault in YA – 2
**Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault, Rape, Violence**
Hello peepsies! So yesterday, I talked about sexual assault in YA, specifically my experiences and thoughts on it. Today I have special guest Sophia Elaine Hanson to talk more on the topic and share her thoughts! Let’s begin:
There is a fine line between young adult and new adult fiction, and it is notoriously difficult to walk. When does a love scene become smut? When does a fight scene become too graphic? When are the themes within the pages of a book no longer suitable for preteens and teens? The questions are endless, and they often have little to do with the actual age of the main characters. Today, I want to talk about a specific facet of this ongoing debate, and it is a bit of a dark one: sexual assault.
The first question that comes to mind is this: Is it acceptable to portray sexual assault in young adult books? As an author, teenager, and victim of sexual assault, I would say yes. A rape scene is not the same as a passionate, consensual love scene, which some would argue has no place in a book that might be read by young teens. It is less about sex and more about violence and dominance. More often than not, it is used as a weapon to tear someone down, to make them feel subhuman. There is plenty of graphic violence in the young adult genre, it is not something we shy away from as a culture. Why is it more socially acceptable to describe a decapitation than a rape? I promise, it is far more likely that a woman, or a man for that matter, will be sexually assaulted than have their head chopped off by a sadistic villain in black robes. What are the statistics now? 1/4 women and 1/6 men? Fiction, both for adults and young adults, is meant to serve as a warped mirror of the reality we live in. It may be decorated with magic or futuristic technology, but in the end it is about delving into what makes us human. It is vital that we teach young teens that sexual assault is real, that it happens, and that it is wrong. And what better way to do that than through literature?
Now, that being said, there is a limit to what is appropriate. Most would argue that if the main character is eighteen or older, the book should be labelled new adult rather than young adult. That line is often blurred though, pun intended. For example, the Throne of Glass* series is promoted as a young adult saga, despite the fact that its main character is eighteen at the start of the series and turns nineteen halfway through. My own debut dystopian novel, Vinyl*, follows a main character who is nineteen years old, but features themes commonly associated with the young adult genre. Certain violent, disturbing themes in The Hunger Games* probably belong in the new adult category, but as Katniss is only seventeen it is considered young adult fiction.
But let us put this part of the debate aside for a moment and zero back in on the issue of sexual violence. If a book containing sexual assault is to be categorized as young adult, the scene in question should be described in less graphic detail. Not glossed over, not sugar coated, but just less detailed. The same should be true of pure violence and torture, though that is often not the case. Conversely, if a book is categorized as new adult, an instance of sexual assault could be described in greater detail, though I would argue it is not always necessary. Too often it becomes perverted by too much description, something the wrong reader might interpret as attractive, desirable. Sometimes less is more. Sometimes the seed of the concept, of what you know is happening to the character you have grown to love, is enough.
*This is an affiliate link I have with Amazon 🙂