Young adult literature encompasses dystopian fantasies, soppy romance, emotional coming of age stories and everything in between. Though the genre often makes use of humor and sarcasm so as to appeal to a teenage audience, these books also tackle complex themes including depression, suicide and sexual assault. Julie Vignoul, South’s media specialist, believes that we should not shy away from talking about even the most difficult of subjects.
“Sadly, I think [sexual assault] is one of the most important issues teens have to manage in their lives,” Vignoul said. “It is something that affects everyone, even if they are not directly involved. By the time young people are in their early 20’s, they will know someone who has to navigate the trauma of sexual assault or abuse. The South Library has at least 48 books that either have sexual assault or sexual abuse as a subject heading.”
These works can be broken into two general categories.
“Nonfiction includes informational books that address what sexual assault is, what forms it can take, how to recover and heal from it, and how to be actively involved in working against it and educating the world,” Vignoul said. “And memoirs are stories of men and women who have dealt with assault and how they moved beyond it, or stories of cases from the news that reflect the culture of rape prevalent in our world. Fiction novels tend to be stories that involve sexual assault or sexual abuse, both male or female, and the consequences to all people involved.”
Vignoul believes that schools should play an active role in introducing these stories to students.
“I think the health classes do a fantastic job of including material on this subject into their curricula,” she said. “It is a controversial issue as many students have very strong feelings about all sides of this topic, but I think it is vital for teens to understand what consent looks like. Many college campuses are providing education around this topic and high schools should also be involved.”
Though books on sexual assault have been gradually making their way into middle school, high school and upper education curriculums, some may question whether it is too sensitive of a topic for younger students to be learning about. Vignoul maintains that this is not the case.
“There are wonderful books that teach young children that they have rights to privacy of person. I think this topic is vital for children to be aware of since 15 percent of sexual assault and abuse happens to children under 12!” she said. “We need to take it out of the shadows and not let children feel ashamed. They need to learn that it is not their fault, no matter what they are told, and that they can ask for help.”
Books have the ability to engage, to educate, and to spark conversation. In the future, Vignoul wishes to see that power in action.
“I hope that as a school and community we will take every opportunity to continue to change the culture that allows [sexual assault] to happen,” she said.