Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Speak Loudly

For my regular blog readers, I apologize in advance as this post is a bit off topic in that it isn't directly related to LIS education or to my own (current) research. However, it is related to my previous life as a researcher in loss and trauma, and my work at a rape crisis team. It is also, of course, related to my dislike of censorship. I encourage constructive comments at the end, and I also encourage you to check out the other blogs below as many folks are saying a lot of very powerful stuff in response to this week's book challenge.

There have been a lot of great blog posts in response to Wesley Scroggins' now-infamous article, and while I doubt I have anything all that new to say here, I do want to add my voice to those supporting Speak and the other books Scroggins challenged. I am of the opinion that censoring material is the wrong approach, but in this particular instance it is more than just censorship to me because I spent years working with rape victims after being assaulted in high school. Someone who wants to take power away from teenage girls who have experienced this by denying them a text that they can relate to may want to consider sitting down with some of the people who have experienced both the trauma of rape and the struggle that is the healing process to try and understand why hearing that story is vital to their understanding that they are not alone.
But that isn't the only reason why this book challenge is problematic, because Scroggins' standpoint is parroting what are referred to as 'rape myths' by those of us working in victims' services. Scroggins is making the all-too-common mistake of confusing rape with sex. If we consider a book about sexual assault to be 'porn,' we are falling back into these myths, at the base of which are two assumptions: 1. That rape is purely a sexual act rather than one of power using sexual means, and 2. it's the fault of the victim. There are many parts of Speak that mirror the experiences of survivors I know, especially teenagers. Scroggins, rather than addressing the power of a story to promote healing, says, "As the main character of the book is alone with a boy who is touching her female parts, she makes the statement that this is what high school is supposed to feel like. The boy then rapes her on the next page." Yes, the fact that this happens is disturbing, and alarming. But what it isn't is something that we should ignore. I have worked with too many survivors of assault (both male and female) who were not able to begin healing until they felt they could relate to and speak with someone else. That feeling of shared experience is an important reminder that the victim isn't dirty or flawed in any way, but that they have had power taken away from them by someone else. This is especially true for teenagers, who already feel very confused and are confronted with many changes both in their bodies and their lives. It hurts me to think that Scroggins (or anyone else for that matter) would want to take such a powerful story away from those who need it.
I'll conclude with the links to a couple other blogs (and this does not even begin to scratch the surface of all the great posts that are out there, so if yours isn't on here, put a link in the comments below!) This post  by Jake the Girl is powerful, and I want to thank her for being strong enough to share her experience so others can learn from it. This post on Bookalicio.us is awesome, not only for its analysis but also for the very helpful list of blog posts added by others who've written on the topic. Go here for Laurie Halse Anderson's (author of Speak) blog. Sarah Ockler, whose book, Twenty Boy Summer, was also challenged by Scroggins has a great blog where she makes some great points about the freedom to read (and has a contest going on to win the 'filthy books' from Scroggins' article!) Also, check out this article by Isael Kaplan.
And finally, when I mentioned my own experiences, you can read an article I wrote about the healing process (and a bit at the end relating it to loss & trauma theory, although that's probably less relevant here). Not sure if a full text version is online, but here is the citation for those who are interested:
 Skinner, Julia. “Recovery from Trauma: A Look into the Process of Healing from Sexual Assault.” Journal of Loss and Trauma: International Perspectives on Stress and Coping  14:3 (2009): 170-180.
I can't help but think of the many parallels between the story in Speak and my own story. I am so happy to see the number of folks who are speaking out against this (or any!) censorship--I feel very proud to be a librarian (well, student)!


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Julia. I look forward to reading your article, and the blogs you mention.

  2. Thanks Courtney! Let me know what you think--I always love getting feedback!