As an English teacher, I feel that it is my duty and my pleasure to become a complete literary nerd with the classics. However, I somehow did not read many of them in high school or college. That is probably some kind of system failure. Although, maybe the detriment of my youth will lead me to a better appreciation of the classics as an adult. I also read current Young Adult fiction that my students enjoy. The amazing thing that I notice is that there are trends that never seem to die. Trends that probably should die. Let me explain.
Stigmas in Literature
Recently, I read Dracula for the very first time. Vampire literature has become very popular in the past decade. Yes, I’ve read the Twilight series, but that’s a whole separate topic. Diving into Dracula was exciting for three reasons: it’s a classic, it’s a vampire story, and that’s one of my nicknames. I enjoyed how the story was narrated from different points of view and how the characters came together to fight against this evil.
But here is the kicker: I was totally thrown off balance when Mina Harker was rejected by God because of something that Dracula did to her. She did not want it or ask for it. This doesn’t give too much away, I don’t think. It is a classic worth reading for its style, descriptions, and suspense. What I really want to point out is the idea that because Mina was bitten by a vampire, God rejected her. I was more horrified by this idea than the evil vampire. Dracula’s role was was no Edward Cullen of a gentleman. I think this book reveals something more about cultures around the world. It reveals how society views victims of sexual crimes. Thank God that this is not how God really views us and our sin. Thank God that He still loves us!
I couldn’t let this idea go that easily. Other characters in other books carry these stigmas as well because of something done to them instead of a crime or sin that they committed personally. Tess of the D’Ubervilles suffered shame after a child was born to her out of rape. She had a child out of wedlock. Hannah in 13 Reasons Why carried the weight of a false social image that was unfairly forced on her. It was part of the reason that she committed suicide. Melinda in Speak drug the shame of ruining a party although no one understood why. Lakshmi in Sold probably was never able to return home because her stepfather sold her into a life of slavery. She would be rejected forever because of what was done to her.
Literature often reflects the culture. These novels, whether classic or young adult fiction, reflect the views that society has held against the victims of sex crimes for too long. Check out these studies that expose what culture is thinking.
According to The Atlantic, “moral values play a large role in determining the likelihood that someone will engage in victim-blaming . . . rating the victim as ‘contaminated’ rather than ‘injured.’” I had to stop and check my morals. Life used to be so black and white and easy to understand. Now there are so many shades of grey. I remember reading Sold and the way that Lakshmi was considered “contaminated.” Do we think the same way?
A study done by Southern Connecticut State University highlights the dangerous issue that often victims feel like it is harder to come forward if society will possibly blame them in some way for the abuse that happened to them. That statement is so difficult to believe even as I type it. It is probably difficult until someone is faced with a real situation.
The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape agrees with Southern CT and adds that “offenders may intentionally encourage victims to engage in bad or illegal behavior knowing it is one more layer of protection for themselves should the victim report their sexual assaults.”
So then . . .
Reading stories like these give personal accounts of the victims’ experiences. Reading helps us to connect to these situations that we would otherwise never encounter. Reading helps us to add emotion and background to a circumstance so that we can connect with a character on a different level. Even the fictional accounts originate in reality somewhere. These accounts help us to change our minds as a society in order to help real victims gain the opportunities for a good life which was stolen from them. We’ve got to see them as victims who are people that have something valuable to offer society.
Editor’s note: If you would like to read more books that help shed light on the issue of human trafficking, head over to our resource page to find some great recommendations!
Author: Allison Dredla
I’m just a mom and a local high school teacher. No. No one should say “just.” Add to that, I am also a Sunday School teacher and Bible study leader in my local church.