Books can help readers better understand issues as complex as sexual assault, consent, trauma and healing. These five are a few of the non-fiction and fiction books that educate and raise awareness for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Know My Name by Chanel Miller
In “Know My Name,” Chanel Miller, who was commonly known as Emily Doe in the 2015 sexual assault case at Stanford University, documents her journey through the trial and the process of reclaiming her identity.
This book is gut-wrenching in many ways. Miller explores the complexities of healing from assault, especially when her perpetrator's "future" was deemed more important than hers. Readers will feel angry as Miller uncovers a behind-the-scenes trailer of how the judicial system treats survivors. The book is full of heavy content and hard to get through at some points.
Miller's emotionally intense narrative can make readers feel like dumbbells are weighing them down with every page. Although challenging, Miller's resilience will stick with readers long after the last page — so much so, readers will never forget her name.
Take it as a Compliment by Maria Stoian
“Take It as a Compliment” is a graphic novel featuring 20 short illustrated stories depicting different forms of sexual abuse such as street harassment, intimate partner and child abuse.
Stoian's illustrations summarize experiences that most of us have unfortunately experienced at some point like thoughts of “I should have been more assertive” or the sinking feeling that comes after someone has violated your boundaries.
Stoian’s illustrations are vibrant and colorful, from neon greens to plum purple — a contrast to the ugly acts penned on the pages. The graphics are raw, stark and unflinching, producing a myriad of emotions. That being said, it is a must-read and a healing reminder that survivors are not alone, and more importantly, it is never their fault.
SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson
In a school year, 58% of students in 7th to 12th grade will experience some form of sexual assault.Anderson's narrative is fictional, but the scenarios, characters and themes displayed are not. “Speak” follows high school student Melinda who is sexually assaulted at a party by an older classmate.
It's a young adult book that often graces the desks of high school English classes, but readers of all ages can learn from the complex story of a survivor trying to speak up. Anderson crafts the story in such a beautiful way; she effortlessly weaves in victimhood, healing, friendship and trauma.
Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture by Roxane Gay
This essay collection devours how our society continuosly promotes a culture of sexual violence.
Each chapter is written by authors from across the spectrum of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, socioeconomic class and geographic location. Each chapter is a real-life account documenting an individual's experience with sexual violence and is a harrowing, but educational, read on how deep-rooted rape culture is in our society.
The book’s main appeal is its deep-dive into how boys and girls are set on different paths from as early as their playrooms. Boys are taught to be “manly” and rough, while girls are taught to be friendly, obedient and take boy’s violence as an indication of romance. Girls are taught that when a boy pulls their pigtail, it is because the boy has a crush on her. This simple selection of characteristics fuels every generation in promoting a sexist society where gropes or catcalls are innocent acts.
The authors dives heavily into microaggressions and how sexual violence isn't just rape, but slithers into something society coins as “locker room talk.” When you start reading the book, each chapter feels like individual strings dangling beyond the book's confines; but it knots itself together toward the end, producing a crucial narrative that will provoke readers to learn more.
Things We Didn't Talk About When I Was a Girl by Jeannie Vanasco
“Things We Didn't Talk About When I Was a Girl” is a memoir about Vanasco's experience reconnecting with her former friend and assaulter.
In eight out of 10 cases, a survivor will know their perpetrator. Vanasco’s chronicle emphasized the complexity buried between the intersection of healing from a sexual assault, as well as the complexity of knowing and trusting your perpetrator.
Vanasco pens a gut-punching reflection on sexual assault, female friendships, healing and how so-called feminists tend to fail survivors with their surface-level activism. Beyond that, the book dives into the myths of victimhood and how society expects survivors to respond and heal according to a specific timeline. This book is uncomfortable at times. But — just like a first sip of a carbonated drink — once the burn from the fizz settles, reading Vanasco’s journey to closure is satisfying.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but advocacy initiatives span beyond the singular month. One of the best things allied readers can do is continue educating themselves on sexual assault prevention and dismantling the culture of violence deeply rooted within our society. It can be as simple as picking up a book and learning from survivors.