Alexandra Duncan

Science Fiction. Fantasy. Feminism.

On Shaming Rape Victims

*This post comes with a trigger warning.*

The Slutshelf Giveaway I've been running to raise money for the Freedom to Read Foundation has brought out some negative reactions from people. One of the tougher issues raised was whether or not I should give away a copy of Speak as part of the prize. One person felt this was tantamount to making rape victims into a joke, an accusation which made me feel physically ill for reasons which should be obvious, but that I'll explain shortly.

First, though, let me explain why I believe Speak (and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, for that matter) shouldn't be removed from this giveaway.


Rape victims frequently experience victim-blaming and what we call slut-shaming, for lack of a better word. You see it everywhere. She wanted it. After all, look how she was dressed. She was flirting. She was drunk. What did she expect?  Look at the case of Daisy Coleman, whose family was forced to move after she spoke out publicly against being shamed by her attacker and others in her town. People very literally called her a slut. Or this teen in Illinois who had her house vandalized with the words "slut" and "whore" after she became pregnant by her rapist. Or the victim in the Stubenville, Ohio case who was threatened on Twitter. by other teenage girls This happens all the time. Slut-shaming and victim-blaming are inextricably bound together.


One of the books included on the Goodreads slut shelf that originally inspired this giveaway  was Where the Stars Still Shine, by my agency sister Trish Doller. The main character of Trish's book is kidnapped and molested, and yet there it is on the slut shelf. I hadn't had a chance to talk to Trish before setting up the giveaway, but since Speak and The Perks of Being a Wallflower are so well known for tackling similar issues and frequently end up on the ALA's annual list of banned books, I thought they would be good representatives of this particularly nasty type of shaming.

Part of why all of this makes me sick is because of my own history. I don't talk publicly about the specifics of it, because the person who abused me as a child and young teenager is still out there and occasionally attempts to contact me. I don't like giving him reasons to do so. I also have a number of people very close to me who have experienced different forms of sexual abuse, but their stories aren't mine to tell. Suffice to say, this issue hits me where I live. It makes me angry like nothing else.

In one of the productive conversations I had on Twitter regarding this issue, S.E. Sinkhorn, Stephanie Keuhn, and I talked about how everyone has different coping mechanisms for dealing with trauma. Mine obviously involves sarcasm, which has the downside of not always coming through over the internet. Stephanie very rightly pointed out that not everyone can or wants to use that as a coping mechanism and might find the word "slut" hurtful, even when it's being used in a context where we are trying to tear it down. I can understand that. For a long time, I couldn't even read the word "rape" without feeling like I was literally going to throw up.

However, as time has passed, I've come to look at that word and words like "slut," the same way Harry Potter treats the name Voldemort. For me anyway, refusing to say those words gives them power. But saying them in the context of accurately describing a crime or pointing out the fundamental ridiculousness of the term chips away at their ability to impart fear. Everyone reading this brings their own coping tactics and hard-won life lessons to the discussion, though, so if anyone was hurt or triggered by the name of my giveaway, I sincerely apologize. Please know that this giveaway/fundraiser is intended to tear down the whole idea of "slut" and promote substantive, respectful discussion about the issue. I'm not glad about the circumstances that led me to write this post, but I am grateful for the opportunity to continue this discussion with all of you.

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