Archaeologist Eleanor Blake has no intention of relying on a man for her happiness; she needs only a trowel and a dig site to feel fulfilled. But in 1985, an attempted sexual assault frightens her into giving up field work. She hides behind her desk job at the Smithsonian—safe, but unhappy with the limits she’s placed on her career.
Those sentences describe my as-yet to be published contemporary romance Trowel and Error. It’s a story I believe in. A story I feel needs to be told. A story I want to share. But I’m not sure I will get that chance.
Attempted sexual assault. Do you need a trigger warning? Are you disgusted? Turned off? Already hitting delete on my query? If only sexual assault victims could delete what happened to them. But they can’t. We can’t. I can’t. And it’s downright hard—insulting even—to see so many people (agents) say they don’t want to see a manuscript with a rape. According to RAINN, one in six women will be a victim of a sexual assault or an attempted sexual assault. Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. So you can say you don’t want to read about it. You can say it’s “not for you.” You can dismiss it as an empty or lazy or manipulative plot device.
You can say all these things, but you haven’t met me. You don’t know me. And maybe, your attitude is diminishing my experience. Maybe you’re rape shaming me. Maybe you think I’m playing the victim card. Maybe you’re just not interested. Maybe you just don’t care. Maybe you don’t want to bothered, don’t want to be upset, don’t want to acknowledge there’s a problem.
Some people turn their faces away from homeless people. Some people change the television channel when starving children or amputee veterans or abused animals are on the screen. Everyone has that right.
But when you’re in an industry that the rest of the world relies on to give us a window into other people’s lives, that holds up a mirror to reflect ugly truths, how can you not be brave and try to understand someone else’s experience? How can you deny the legitimacy of someone else’s pain and their right to share?
I can’t believe I even have to say this but here it is: A RAPE ISN’T A PLOT DEVICE. It isn’t who a person is. But it is part of that person. You can no more ask a rape victim to disregard that part of their own self than you can ask someone to distance themselves from their race, their gender, their age, their sexual orientation. I’ve often wished there were some sort of #ownvoices designation for assault victims who want to tell their stories. It feels like we need that sort of protection. And yet, no one is saying someone else is more qualified to tell our stories; they’re saying that even we shouldn’t be telling our stories. How sad. How wasteful, short-sighted, and damaging.
There is still so much shame around rape. There is still so much doubt. Rape victims have an enormous burden. To prove it wasn’t their fault. To prove that their clothes or their actions didn’t cause what happened to them. To prove it actually happened.
When someone doesn’t want to see a manuscript like this, it’s as if they are saying my story isn’t important. My experience doesn’t deserve to be shared. I should sit down and shut up. I should keep my experiences to myself. Because they might inconvenience you. They might be hard to read. They might make you uncomfortable. Any idea how uncomfortable I was?
The agents say, “no raped women.” No rape as a means to making a female character stronger. As if a woman who has been raped is suddenly, forever and completely, a raped woman. As if a woman who has been raped isn’t a total freaking HERO for rising above what happened to her. Rape is not her identity, it is not her fate, it is not the end of her story. But you’re saying the story doesn’t matter. That what comes next isn’t important. That you have no interest in finding out how this doesn’t have to be the final word. That women can be and are so much more than what happened to them. And they have stories. Stories that deserve to be shared. Victims need a voice and a platform.
I will use my voice. And I will create my own platform if I have to. But having allies and advocates in the publishing world would help. Having people who won’t automatically reject even a glance at my manuscript because of one thing would help.
One way or another, I will share my story.
And maybe it will help others. And maybe it will make those of you who don’t want to be bothered more compassionate, more understanding, and more aware that survivors should never be branded.
If I sound angry, I am. By saying you don’t want to see it, you’re sending a message that this is bad, this is wrong. No one wants to see this, no one wants to know. Move along. Keep going. Close your eyes. Turn your head. Deny, deny, deny.