Why write a novel about rape? For me, the reason was personal. I was a victim of sexual assault when I was a student in college. According to statistics gathered by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, over 23% of female college students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation. All women between the ages of 18 and 24 are the most likely to be targeted by sexual predators. While it’s true that males are also sexual assault victims, the numbers clearly indicate that the vast majority – 90% – of adult rape victims are female.
I taught high school journalism for 20 years, so my students and I often examined important and often difficult to discuss issues on a daily basis. Nothing was out-of-bounds. My students were encouraged to ask me anything. My promise was that I would always tell them the truth. Periodically, I was asked whether there was anything in my life I regret. And the answer was always the same.
I look back on that night in 1975 when I went on a dinner date with a sweet-faced farm boy I’d met in the dining hall. He was on crutches, convalescing from a football injury. If memory serves, he was about six-foot-three and probably around 250 pounds, still I never for a moment had a bad feeling, nor the least concern when, after dinner, he invited me up to his dorm room. The stare from his roommate still registers. Another member of the football team who would go on to play in the NFL simply picked up his typewriter, walked out, and closed the door. My date, in what seemed like an instant, stripped my clothes from my body. I fought, which made him smile. “You know I can do anything I want to you,” he said. “And there’s nothing you can do about it.”
This was the moment in my life I would come to understand that I couldn’t fight my way out of a situation. I’d always considered myself strong and athletic, so I resisted. But as he pinned me to the bed, I realized he enjoyed the battle. The more I struggled the more aroused he became. Strangely, I recalled something my father said before sending me off to college. He’d given me just one piece of advice. He looked me in the eye and said, “Nothing is worth your life.” When I didn’t respond, my dad repeated the message. “Nothing is worth your life.”
I stopped fighting my attacker, believing my father’s words. To my astonishment, the man backed off. He yelled, “What’s the matter with you?” It was then I understood he wanted me to fight, to scream. I laid on the bed motionless. Nothing was worth my life. He got off me and threw my clothes on the bed. I dressed and ran, expecting him to reach out and grab me every moment until I reached my own room.
The next morning a small girl approached me in my dorm hallway. “Can I ask you a personal question?” she said. She wanted to know if I’d gone out with the man. I said I had. “Did he strip you?” she asked. I nodded. “He stripped me, too.” Our conversation ended there, when she just walked away.
Later that day, a dear friend who played on the football team marched angrily toward me at lunch and pulled me aside. “Why did you go out with him?” he asked. “Everyone knows about him!” Clearly, he was wrong. I didn’t know there was a rapist living in the quad. Neither did the girl who approached me. But apparently others were aware. How many of them were victims? And if his behavior was common knowledge, why was he still living on a college campus?
So, what do I regret? According to the National Research Council, 80% of sexual assaults go unreported to law enforcement. Like the vast majority of victims, I said nothing. I sometimes wonder how many women he has attacked over the years? Could I have prevented some of these assaults, had I found the courage to speak up? My logical mind tells me nothing would have been done, had I gone to the police. I’d been on a date. I’d had a few drinks. I willingly went to his room, so what did I expect?
Sadly, forty years later, this attitude still prevails and we now face an epidemic, a plague with life-long effects. The following statistics come directly from RAINN:
• 33% of women who are raped contemplate suicide. 13% of women who are raped attempt suicide.
• People who have been sexually assaulted are more likely to use drugs than the general public.
• Sexual violence also affects victims’ relationships with their family, friends, and co-workers.
• Victims are at risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
Teachers, like law enforcement officers, medical professionals, and social workers, are mandated reporters of child abuse. In that capacity, I have encountered students who’ve been sexually assaulted and raped, all by relatives and/or family friends, many repeatedly. Primarily female, these victims have been universally blamed for the attacks against them, families seemingly more concerned about protecting men and boys.
I have written The Castle in the hope that we can bring the horrors of sexual assault and rape out into the open. We must encourage victims to come forward, so we can stop these predators. But how can we get people to speak up, if we don’t change the way we think about sexual assault? The blame-the-victim attitude must stop. Telling young people that no means no, has not worked. Maybe, we need to teach them what “yes” looks like. And for those adults who believe that teachers should avoid the discussion of uncomfortable subjects, let me say that ignorance is not the answer. Children can and do find anything they want on the Internet, and they often believe everything they log onto. As adults, it’s our responsibility to give them context and guidance, so the world they grow up to inhabit can be better than the one they live in today.
Ancient ruins, haunted memories, and a ruthless criminal combine with a touch of mystic presence in this taut mystery about a crime we all must address.
Contemporary Women’s Fiction/Suspense
September 13, 2021
Maggie, a National Park Ranger of Native American descent, is back at The Castle—a six-hundred-year-old pueblo carved into a limestone cliff in Arizona’s Verde Valley. Maggie, who suffers from depression, has been through several traumas: the gang rape she suffered while in the Coast Guard, the sudden death of her ten-year-old son, and a suicide attempt.
One evening, she chases a young Native American boy through the park and gasps as he climbs the face of The Castle cliff and disappears into the pueblo. When searchers find no child, Maggie’s friends believe she’s suffering from depression-induced hallucinations.
Maggie has several men in her life. The baker, newcomer Jim Casey, who always greets her with a warm smile and pink boxes filled with sweet delicacies. Brett Collins, a scuba diver who is doing scientific studies in Montezuma Well, a dangerous cylindrical depression that houses strange creatures found nowhere else on Earth. Dave, an amiable waiter with whom she’s had a one-night stand, and her new boss Glen.
One of these men is a serial rapist and Maggie is his next target.
In a thrilling and terrifying denouement, Maggie faces her rapist and conquers her worst fears once and for all.
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