I’m taking a quick break from talking about world-building today to talk about worlds much closer to home. Specifically, publishing, book reviews, young adult literature, and sexism and rape culture.
Kirkus Reviews chose to post a review online of the forthcoming book Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu. The gave a quick summary of the book, before jumping straight into the second half of the review where they criticized the author for promoting gender separation, vigilante justice, and ignoring the importance of due process. Followed swiftly by faulting the book for not including a how-to manual of proper procedures for reporting crimes.
Which is not only off-base, but factually incorrect in several instances.
First of all, you are not legally obligated as a regular citizen to report a crime at all, nor are you obligated to speak only to police about criminal activity you may have witnessed or been a victim of. You can also report crimes anonymously to many federal agencies. Nor is reporting to school officials illegal or in any way wrong. They might not have the authority to do anything about the assault but then neither does the justice system always provide a remedy. Most people are aware that you can and are encouraged to report crimes to the police, and reporting to school administrators or any trusted adult can be and often is the first step in such an official report being filed, should you want to go that route.
Second, you have no obligation to include anyone, male or otherwise, in your private organization. Inclusion of men and/or male allies has often been a thorny issue in regards to feminism and fighting sexism. Even men who view themselves as feminists/allies can engage in enormously problematic behavior that can result in harm to women who are the victims of sexism or assault. That’s not to mention the many documented and undocumented cases of false “allies” attempting to exploit or harm women and victims of sexist violence. There is no wrong in choosing to have an all-female group to work on these issues. Men can start their own groups if they so choose, or find a co-ed group in which to do their own advocacy.
Third, on the subject of anonymous accusations, due process, and vigilante justice there is a great deal more to say. First of all, an anonymous accusation in a school paper is not an invocation of the justice system. You have a legal right to due process and to face your accuser in a court of law when a formal complaint is made to the authorities. Nowhere involved in that right is an informal complaint. While it’s true that an anonymous accuser might be lying, so might a public accuser. That doesn’t make the accusation automatically false or unworthy of consideration. In fact, given the outcomes to public accusations that result in dismissals, acquittals, unfounded complaint notes in police files etc, it is horrifically unjust to demand a victim only even make a public formal statement. Approximately 18% of rapes are reported to the police, and depending on the scope of the definition of rape/assault anywhere between 14-37% of accusations are actually prosecuted, with 18% of those resulting in conviction. Just short of 7% of reported rape/assault cases result in a conviction when taking the highest estimates.
As for vigilante justice, one may be surprised to find that the repercussions for a victim whose assailant is not prosecuted, or not convicted, are generally far worse than those who were falsely accused anonymously outside of the legal system. And chances are far better than even that the accused was in fact guilty.
Finally, as YA author Justine Larbalestier elegantly notes: YA novel are not instruction manuals. They’re stories. About things that happen. You want to teach kids the (naive, ignorant, willfully blind) way to react to sexual assault, go be an advocate and teach them yourself. Don’t tell others what their job is and how to do it.
And you don’t get to dictate other people’s responses to trauma, either. No, not even if you were traumatized yourself.
Because what the justice system does best of all is silence sexual assault victims. Because that’s what society wants. They don’t want to hear about it, think about it, have to deal with it. That’s why a university threatened to shut down a student’s organization if they kept supporting her in speaking out about her assault. That’s why often (but not always!) victims are disbelieved, pilloried by their communities and their attackers, belittled, dehumanized, humiliated, called whores and liars and crazy bitches, told they don’t matter, that they didn’t react right. That it’s their fault for being less than perfect. Which is exactly the message this review sends to young women. “Don’t be upset if your rapist goes free because other people’s rights are more important than yours. For example, the guy you’re accusing.”
If you want to be the gatekeeper of proper behavior, get your own house in order before you go throwing stones through someone else’s windows.