Misrepresenting Abuse and Domestic Violence in Romance Literature
I was asked to write an adjunct piece in conjunction with my review of The Wrong Side of Right for the blog. Both the PBA blog and I have a strong aversion to violence being misrepresented in the romance genre and feel it sends a dangerous message. Additionally, I’d like to expound upon what constitutes abuse, domestic violence and rape and talk a little bit about the psychology behind all three. Lastly, I’d like to clarify my position on this book in particular, but also using violence as part of a story arc and the romanticization thereof. Hopefully, some of it will be useful or at least informative.
I bet many of you are thinking I have a personal stake or a history of abuse myself. I don’t. I come from a loving, slightly eccentric and mildly dysfunctional family. My parents never neglected or abused me. I’ve never been raped or assaulted. But, like I said in my review, I see abuse every day, both ends of the spectrum. I’ve seen murderers, rapists, pedophiles and its commonplace for me to see people who have been victimized repeatedly. All of which makes me immensely fortunate and increasingly disturbed by the escalation of abuse. I think when people hear the words “domestic violence” they automatically assume it’s a women’s issue. It’s not. Not entirely at least. I’ve seen fairly equal numbers of men and women who’ve been abused both as children and as adults. What I consistently see as a common denominator among those who are trapped in a cycle of abuse is having a history of abuse or neglect themselves.
I predominantly work with the indigent population and evidence substantiates the cyclical nature of abuse. I’m seeing an almost an imperceptible shift in ethos towards the acceptance of abuse as part of life or, more specifically, relationships. The mindset is, “I’d rather be with you than without you and if this is the best I can do, oh well” which inevitably leads to police involvement, probably alcoholism and/or substance abuse, possibly hospitalization or even death. Those who have been abused in childhood tend to enter into abusive relationships as adults and are more likely to perpetuate the cycle with their own children. The contention that an abusive relationship is acceptable period is maddening in and of itself; but, to then claim it’s somehow romantic is revolting. What saddens me most in the population I work with is the acceptance, the defeatist attitude which usually exacerbates or morphs into a crippling self-image issue. I see this expand exponentially in those who have been repeatedly abused. The “I must deserve this because I’m a <insert negative adjective here> person” attitude which becomes a nightmarish self-fulfilling prophecy. The sheer number of people I’ve seen who have been raped multiple times is deplorable.
What is abuse?
Abuse: the unequal power relationship within which the assault occurs and further suggests that a presumption of trust has been violated.
Assaultive behavior: can include not only harmful acts against a person but also both verbal and behavioral threat to significant others, pets, or property.
Domestic violence: subsumes any act of assault by a social partner or relative, regardless of marital status.
1.5 million women and 830,000 men admitted to some form of violence in 2000. (James, 2008)
Being abusive or violent is essentially a learned set of behaviors typically borne of a chaotic childhood. I could wax on about attachment issues and theories, but I’m quite certain that would bore most of you out of your minds, so I’ll go for brevity. Attachment is a process all of us go through; we attach to a caregiver in early childhood. If that attachment is unstable in some way it leads to relational problems later in life most commonly of dependency and also, paradoxically, isolation. Most people with attachment issues have trouble sustaining any sort of relationship because they don’t know what a healthy relationship is. What they do know is Mom and Dad used to hit it each other or hit me so that equates to love. Doesn’t it? Violence is their form of communication or love as it were. And the cycle continues as does the shift in mores. People with attachment disorders in childhood typically evolve into a personality disorder as an adult and certain personality disorders are predisposed to be abusive and/or violent. Unlearning this behavior is, needless to say, challenging. Do people in abusive relationships “love” each other? Sometimes, though it is a very dysfunctional permutation. Still, that doesn’t negate the existence of abuse nor does it make it acceptable.
What is rape?
Rape: any sexual act that is forced on you.
It should not be surprising then that rape, sexual assault, and child sexual abuse demographics tend to mimic domestic violence statistics. (James, 2008)
The United States currently ranks sixth in highest rate of rape at 28.6%. There are 89,000 incidences of rape reported annually in the U.S. (US Bureau of Justice, 2013). Those are the reported incidences. Think about how many go unreported. Think about how many more go unreported within the LGBTQ community due to a presumed indifferent or prejudicial stance. Being raped is a traumatic event, one that compounds when multiple perpetrators are involved. Individuals who have been violated in such a way feel “dirty”, usually have trouble with intimacy and inevitably deal with some degree of PTSD. I’ve seen people up to 20 years afterwards that continue to struggle with PTSD symptomology-nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety/panic attacks, trouble trusting others and persistent trouble sleeping. Rape is not something you cry once about and it goes away.
The Wrong Side of Right’s cavalier handling of this sensitive issue is primarily what I take issue with. The fact that the abuse in The Wrong Side of Right occurs between men sent the message (to me) that it carries less significance. Because men are tough, right? They should be able to shake it off, right? And God forbid they recognize and/or report being abused or violated in their relationship because that would make them less of a man, wouldn’t it? Abuse is abuse no matter your sexuality and there are some staggering numbers in the attached articles on same sex violence. Abuse within the LGBTQ community comes with its own set of obstacles, to be certain, making the task of finding compassionate respite daunting at best. The best antidote is raising awareness of its existence because the victims certainly don’t need to be further marginalized.
The relationships in The Wrong Side of Right are depicted as BDSM relationships. I disagree with this characterization. Does abuse occur within the BDSM community? Yes. There are a plethora of articles, interviews and opinions to support such. However, the generally secretive nature of the BDSM community, a fairly widespread misconception of BDSM on the whole in addition to an ongoing debate about what constitutes abuse within the BDSM community makes the task of unearthing accurate statistics problematic. Nevertheless, kinkabuse.com and salon.com both have many articles on the subject.
One last thing I’d like to clarify. One that I’m sure many of my friends/followers are confounded by with regard to my stance on this book and my statement about having read rape/torture novels in the past. I will continue to do so, for the record. I think I’ve illustrated I don’t live in a bubble. Atrocities happen every day and books contain characters that are meant to be relatable and authentic. Characters sometimes have to travel a hard road to come out the other side. I get that. What I fundamentally disagree with in The Wrong Side of Right is the casual acceptance and romanticization of the unacceptable. The handling of the rape and abuse I found to be dismissive and trivializing. When you have a protagonist raped there has to be finesse if you’re going to convince me that the victim has moved on or, at least, moved into a Stockholm Syndrome situation. It requires skill to pull off a contemporary rape to love/Stockholm Syndrome story arc that wasn’t realized in The Wrong Side of Right. It’s possibly an easier feat within the context of a fantasy/alt world setting where the reader can mostly disconnect from reality. But telling the reader it’s romantic or, worse, that the protagonist enjoyed it? I can’t buy that. Orgasm or no orgasm no one enjoys being raped, beaten, repeatedly bullied, victimized and carved on and, more to the point, there is certainly nothing romantic about it. Any assertion otherwise is repulsive and portentous.
If you’re mired in this type of relationship, seek help, speak out. I promise you, you don’t deserve it. No one does.
- James, Richard K., Crisis Intervention Strategies, Sixth Edition (Belmont, CA: Thomas Higher Education, 2008), pgs 214, 249 & 256.
- United States Bureau of Statistics. (2013). Rape Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.statisticbrain.com/rape-statistics/
Additional information on abuse
- U.S. and Canada: 1-888-7HELPLINE (1-888-743-5754) The Domestic Abuse Helpline
- UK: 01823 334244 ManKind Initiative
- Australia: One in Three Campaign offers a number of crisis hotlines
- In the US: call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE).
- UK: call Women’s Aid at 0808 2000 247.
- Australia: call 1800RESPECT at 1800 737 732.
- Worldwide: visit International Directory of Domestic Violence Agencies for a global list of helplines, shelters, and crisis centers.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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