Please read this book.
Every woman and every man whether you think you understand consent or not should give it a try. Louise O’Neill painstakingly conveys the culture of victim-blaming, social media and the stigma surrounding sexual assault.
The novel follows an eighteen-year-old girl who is raped, pictures of which are published online spurring on disgust and a “She was asking for it” attitude by those she considered friends. The whole town of Ballinatoon isolates her and her family, support the three attackers, offer their condolences and even sport T-Shirts adorned with hashtags promoting their story. The book sees the victim go crazy with guilt and the town go crazy with ignorance.
The plot is of little importance, though. The main device in this novel is the moral context it is in and how we need to change it. The main character Emma is a jealous, ungrateful, shallow, selfish woman who steals from her best friend but she does not deserve what happens to her. Nobody does. She dresses promiscuously, gets drunk, takes illegal drugs and cannot remember how she ended up on her front porch the next morning. She is still not responsible for what happened. The rapists are.
In my preview, I expressed how intrigued I was by authors who tackle flaws in the justice system and society. O’Neill is blunt about the lack of awareness about rape and even the word rape is stigmatised by the main characters “You can’t just go throwing that word around…”, “He’s a good guy…”, “I was just asking if it was like rape rape?” The story is told fluidly with statistics cropping up during the story like little placards urging readers to become aware of the injustice. Less than 1% of victims of sexual crimes in Ireland get justice. That is a serious statistic but when you think of all the unreported cases on top of that, this becomes harrowing.
Obviously, this is not the type of book one looks forward to reading. It is uncomfortable and political. This, I believe, is more reason to read it. Yes, it would be easier to settle with your cup of tea and a cheesy chick-lit but we cannot become Ballinatoon, supporting the accused because “They’re good boys really, it just got out of hand.” And if you think rape is not an issue in this country right now, you especially need to get a copy of this book.
The world has changed a lot in the past fortnight and I find it poignant, ironic even, that I finished just in time to receive the US election result. A candidate with at least twenty-four convictions of inappropriate sexual behaviour (including accusations of rape and misconduct involving children) has been chosen to run the most powerful country on the planet. Trump is innocent until proven guilty and these women are, to quote Louise O’Neill, “liar(s) until proven honest.”
So, louder for the people in the back: please read this book.