April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and I can tell you from experience, people do not want to be made aware of this crisis. When people refuse to accept reality, the people suffering have no one to talk to. What survivors really want is to move forward in the healing process, and with little literature out there, I began to see how it would be tough for an introvert to begin to heal without speaking to someone.
I wanted to write a review on sexual assault and its effects so I thought I would start with fiction. The book I chose was Comfort Food by Kitty Thomas, because of its ranking on a Goodread’s list about violence against women, and umm.. WOW. That Koala was me. I do not recommend this book for a survivor of sexual assault, but I can understand the allure of Thomas mystifying storytelling. She wrote one helluva story. But this for all intents and purposes does not work. It did provide another example of how women respond to rape, which is good. There is no correct response to trauma, but by the time the plot took off, I was just thinking ‘oh my god this is not what I wanted help me someone please’.
Was Comfort Food well written? Absolutely.
Would I recommend this book to sexual assault survivors? HELL NO! PUT THE BOOK DOWN! If you have survived sexual assault, you may even want to skip the following spoiler.
This book follows the story of Emily Vargas, kidnapped, raped and abused by a man who does not say a word to her throughout the novel. Emily needs social activity to cope, and her attacker knows this, so he rations any decent food, modern comfort (bed, shower, clothing, etc), affection and interaction out as a reward for her good behavior. He only rapes and physically abuses her when she has behaved according to his standard. Sick, right?
Well, Emily becomes conditioned to his treatment as she is stuck in her well-dressed cell. She actually looks forward to being raped. By the end of the book, he lets her go, and she runs back to him, becoming the perfect submissive victim. In her farewell letter to her mother, Emily says, “As I write this letter I can’t decide whether I’m acting from strength or weakness, but I know that I’m acting for the first time from my own will” and “maybe I’m just stronger than you”.
I’m sorry, but no. Just no. Emily, your choices were taken away from you the day you were kidnapped. Just like she was conditioned to accept that behavior, she has to be conditioned to reject that behavior.
Yes, this book is well-written, and while the characters may not have been the best fleshed out, the plot was so appalling it did not matter. The shock value beat the authenticity of the characters, but the shock value was the problem for me. The rape scenes were written not from a tone of shock and horror, but from lust and excitement. I understand this was written to push the envelope, but it is an envelope I want to rip up. I should not have to say this, rape is not exciting to survivors. Until rape is taken seriously by American society, I will not perpetuate the belief rape is exciting or lust-worthy.
Why Do We Care About Sexual Assault Awareness?
Once a week I talk to men and women who have survived rape, and are suffering from grief, anger, fear, shame and embarrassment. The police faults them for the attack, and their family considers them to be shamed. The people I talk to spend the rest of their lives healing from this trauma. I would be doing them a disservice promoting a book sexualizing rape.
Once a week I tell people, “What happened to you is not okay. You did not want this to happen to you, and everything you did during the attack, you did to survive. Regardless of your behavior you did not deserve this, and I am here to support your choices moving forward”. I cannot morally advise people unaware of the lasting damage of rape to read this book because I would be doing a disservice to every person I provide advocacy for.
Have you been sexually assaulted? Do you need someone to talk to who will not judge you? I am an advocate for sexual assault survivors and I am here for you. You can email me at Briana@thepaperbackpost.com. If you are facing a crisis and need help immediately, you can call RAINN’s national hotline at 800-656-4673.
Since I couldn’t provide good fiction, I hope I can at least provide good advocacy. I’m here if you need me.
Be mindful y’all,