Why I Wrote Cease & Desist
The AP report on K12 student sexual assault in America was released this morning and it’s not a pretty picture. Over the last four years, 17,000 young people have reported sexual violence at elementary through high schools. We’re not talking stolen kisses on the playground, here. These are reports “ranging from rape and sodomy to forced oral sex and fondling…often mischaracterized as bullying, hazing or consensual behavior.” Most administrators ignored, or downplayed the reports as unsubstantiated. (Do you know a twelve-year old who wants to admit she’s been raped, or even knows what the word rape means?)
Specifically, “Unwanted fondling was the most common form of assault, but about one in five of the students assaulted were raped, sodomized or penetrated with an object, according to AP’s analysis of the federal incident-based crime data. About 5 percent of the sexual violence involved 5- and 6-year-olds. But the numbers increased significantly between ages 10 and 11 — about the time many students start their middle-school years — and continued rising up until age 14.”
I wrote a “fictional” YA thriller about a sixteen-year-old girl, who is cast in a RealityTV drama, where she’s sexually assaulted by boys her age and must defend herself. I was told to call it “dystopian” by the publisher. After reviewing sexual assaults — some of which were temporarily posted online, we decided to sell Cease & Desist as “near future.”
Well, it looks like the future has arrived, and so far, no one is doing a damn thing to stop it except erecting a bronze statue of a little girl standing her ground against a bull, and wringing their hands about what a sorry state our schools have become.
You wanna know who is really to blame? We are. The article states, “Laws and legal hurdles also favor silence. Schools have broadly interpreted rules protecting student and juvenile privacy to withhold basic information about sexual attacks from their communities. Victims and their families face high legal thresholds to successfully sue school districts for not maintaining safe learning environments.”
But there’s a deeper problem here that goes beyond finger pointing. What happens to a society when it-can’t-possibly-be-really-happening vision of the future is no longer dystopic or even fiction. We all love to read about a world in distress? (so long as we are sitting comfortably with a good book). A world that’s really a wake-up call for all those things we need to avoid. Dystopian fiction is deeply, cathartically, satisfying, that is until our darkest fears like child-rape are realized. It’s all fun and Hunger Games so long as when we close the book we can return to our safe, not-too-troubled world.
Child rape is real. And what we’re feeling now isn’t just righteous anger, it’s fear. Most of the far-fetched notions in Cease & Desist are becoming reality. Soon you’ll be able to watch young people have sex and harm each other on digital, interactive, WebTV. You’ll be able to vote on who’ll be the winner, the same way the mob chose the winner in the Roman Coliseum.
I hope you write me and tell me how wrong I am about this prediction. I hope you tell me that these things will never happen in the real world. But fiction is all we have left to talk about those things that should not be happening in the “real world” And right now it’s getting pretty hard to write “fiction.”