#MeToo – Abuse, Domestic Violence, Rape ‘fantasies’ & Trigger Warnings
Synchronicity is a strange animal. The Michael Weinstein exploded about a month after this was posted. Prior to that a question had come up on Facebook – in books where a primary part of the plotline is abuse, domestic or sexual violence is it necessary to start with the gory details?
On another thread a rather harsh discussion took place regarding rape in an ‘erotic’ novel. The quotation marks around erotic are deliberate – and pertinent to a recent change on Smashwords as recounted on their blog. Because of the increasing tendency of sexual violence in novels, Smashwords – notoriously intent on being open to almost anything – felt it necessary to define what many vendors consider acceptable or not.
Especially ‘non-consensual’ sex where consent is questionable aka dubcon – dubious consent – by law when it’s questionable when the victim said no or is incapable of answering the question. Unfortunately, this is honored more in the breach than the observance in courtrooms because of the notion of rape fantasies. “She wanted it, she just couldn’t admit it.”
Given that October is Domestic Violence month it seemed like a good time to talk about it.
First and foremost, there is nothing about rape that’s a fantasy and the reality is not a bit romantic. It’s brutal and cruel. Even victims who are incapacitated by drink or drugs know they have been violated. Conscious victims suffer bruising and internal tearing. Someone who commits rape has a psychological problem that cannot be cured. There’s no way to soften it or make it ‘right’. It’s not.
Yes, there are women who have fantasies of being dominated, but that’s not the same thing.
An editor at my mid-level publisher (when I was traditionally published) took one of my stories and ‘improved’ it by adding ‘conflict’ – a scene that if it hadn’t been a paranormal – would have met the legal definition of rape. When the publisher went on to approve ‘rape fantasies’ written by both women and men, I left. That publisher is no longer in business. And thanks to that experience and the preponderance of the usage of bad behavior on the part of what some call alpha males, I stopped writing erotic romance.
As a writer and a survivor/thriver, I understand those who want to write about domestic violence. It’s cathartic. The urge to shine a light on the darkness, to expose the ugliness, is strong.
In a strange way, though, it’s become a romance writers ‘trope’ – like the Julia Roberts movie ‘Sleeping with the Enemy’ – where the battered victim flees/escapes and finds love.
However, the writer may not be doing a service to their readers by starting their book with it, at least not without a ‘trigger warning’ – because it may make them relive their trauma.
It also doesn’t address how or why they became part of that relationship or the long-term effects of having survived. All of that is important background. As in Sleeping with the Enemy, many abusers can be at least moderately good-looking and even charming, if overprotective. That over-protectiveness can seem loving and reassuring, like Prince Charming ready to defend his Maid Marian. On the opposite side there are some romance novels where the ‘alpha male’ is dismissive, unreachable until the woman gives up on him, and then he’s interested again. Both are classic manipulative behavior, but many women mistakenly buy into it – he’s just ‘misunderstood’ and if she just loves him enough, he’ll come around. Or he loves her so much he can’t bear to share her. And a lot of writers sell those ideas. He can be redeemed, saved. There is no evidence to support that and it’s a dangerous concept.
The truth is this – rape is horribly destructive to the victim, taking away any and all sense of safety. Domestic violence is just as damaging because it’s committed by someone who supposedly ‘loves’ his victim. That possessiveness, though, doesn’t go away. Leaving is the most dangerous time for a woman. She has a one in three chance of being killed by her abuser. In one case that I know of, her ex-husband waited for years, broke into her home, then killed her and her new husband.
Rape for titillation is allowed by few vendors.
If you’re going to use either in a story, think about what it tells readers – that it’s okay to be mistreated, manipulated?Don’t romanticize it and do include a ‘trigger warning’ in your description for those who experienced it. You might lose some readers, but you won’t traumatize them again by catching them unprepared. If they choose to continue, that is their choice.