Sexual consent on campus
One in five women are sexually assaulted while they’re in college, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Nearly 100 colleges and universities had at least 10 reports of rape on their campuses in 2014. Top that off with the 63 percent of all rapes that aren’t reported to police, and it’s more than frightening.
It’s a societal nightmare—think Brock Turner of Stanford if you need a further reminder—that Brunswick author Maria Padian chose to focus on in her newest young-adult novel, “Wrecked” (Algonquin Young Readers, 337 pages, $17.95). Getting great reviews, it’s a provocative read on a number of levels.
Told from various perspectives, “Wrecked” is not so much the story of a rape but an illuminating examination of what happens after the rape accusation, focusing on the college’s investigatory process and all of those connected to the alcohol-infused inferno that is the incident. The accuser, albeit a “good girl,” is not wholly sympathetic and neither, really, are any of the other characters. Each has his or her take on what happened and what the consequences should be, and as characters, they are credible.
Padian has written several YA books on other timely topics including the relocation of Somali refugees to suburbs and sports-driven anorexia. Don’t let the “YA” designation throw you off from reading this story. Padian’s novel is a prime example of how YA has blurred the lines of literary classification. It’s an insightful and disturbing read for all on the matter of sexual consent.
We spoke with Maria about the novel. Here are excerpts from that conversation:
Q: What prompted you to write about campus sexual assault?
A: Stories come at me from a lot of different directions. The easy answer to this question is that I had kids in college when I started working on “Wrecked,” so concerns about campus sexual assault were very much on my mind. But I’ve always been fascinated by the ways we tell stories and how much a story changes depending on the point of view. When I was researching “Wrecked,” I was intrigued by the dissonance between victims’ versions of what happened “that night” and the alleged perpetrators’ versions. We see these conflicting accounts coming out of colleges and struggle to make sense of it all.
The only way I could imagine accurately dramatizing this dissonance was through a shifting kaleidoscope of perspectives. So in “Wrecked,” the college dean, the roommate, the strangers at the party, the parents, the lawyer, all lend their voices and their opinions. It therefore becomes the story of a community and a culture and not simply a crime and a punishment. It opens up the issue to a larger discussion. My greatest hope for the book is that it gets both young men and women engaged in some necessary, awkward, uncomfortable conversations. I think that’s the only way real change is going to happen.
Q: Tell us about the research you did for this book.
A: I talked to both rape accusers and accused. I read many, many first-person accounts from sexual assault victims. I spoke to lawyers, police, counselors and college Title IX administrators. [It is under Title IX that colleges and universities adjudicate reports of sex assault.] I read a lot of campus newspapers—columns about parties, sex, drinking, hookups, etc., are illuminating—and I pored over college handbooks, reading the fine print about how they adjudicate these charges.
Q: What conclusions, if any, did you reach about what can be done toward solving the problem of sexual assault on campus and its aftermath?
A: This problem is not going to be solved from the top down. Better Title IX compliance and “programming” during freshmen orientation isn’t going to solve this. It’s got to come from the bottom up, which means young people…male and female…have got to engage in some real conversation about sex, expectations, consent, the influence of hookup culture…I could go on and on. And when I say “young people,” I mean sexually active teens. So that means those conversations need to start happening long before students arrive on campus.
Q: What reactions from “Wrecked” readers most stand out for you?
A: My young adult readers…have surprised me. Teen readers lead with their hearts, so you can always expect strong, personal responses to your work. Still, I wasn’t prepared for their gut-wrenching, emotional reactions to the book. Many readers are getting so caught up in the story they respond with anger or deep sadness to the characters, as if these are actual people and this really happened. As an author, it’s a thrill to realize you’ve connected with your audience. However, the book has touched a nerve, and I need to be mindful of that. I recently did a reading where several college students were in tears. I very intentionally don’t read graphic or violent passages, but I need to adjust my introductory remarks to better create a safe space for audiences.
Q: What are you reading now?
A: I’m in two adult book groups, plus I try to keep up with YA, plus the newspapers, plus stuff I just want to read, so…it gets a little stressful. In YA, I just finished Sara Farizan’s “If You Could be Mine.” My traditional “women’s” book group is reading “American Nations,” by Colin Woodard. I’m almost done with “The One in a Million Boy,” by Monica Wood. And my “spiritual” book group is reading “The Cost of Discipleship,” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Amy Canfield loves to read. She has been a book editor, a book reviewer for publications nationwide and is an editor at Current Publishing. She lives in South Portland.