Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Speaking out on a tough subject

"Parents and guardians are responsible for the selection choices of their own minor children."

That quote comes from the back of my library card. It does three things: 1) It states clearly that the library will not stop anyone from checking certain books out based on age-appropriateness; 2) It places that responsibility squarely on the parents' shoulders; 3) It implies that this responsibility only goes as far as their own children, not to other library patrons. That last item refers to censorship, which is what I want to talk about today.

Every year, the American Library Association celebrates Banned Books Week during the last week of September. This year it runs September 25-October 2, but it got an early start thanks to Wesley Scroggins of Republic, MO. On Saturday, he wrote an opinion piece in which he highlighted three novels he wants taken out of the school libraries: Slaughterterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, and Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler. Though I don't think any book should be censored, I want to focus on Speak.

For those of you who haven't read the book, I'm about to spoil one of the main secrets. If you read Scroggins' piece linked above (which you should) you already know this anyway. 

Speak is about rape. The main character, Melinda, was raped at a party over the summer. She called the cops on the party but didn't tell them about the rape. That remains her secret--something she doesn't tell anyone, even when the whole school is shunning her because she snitched. The book is about her realizing that what happened to her was not her fault and that she needs to speak out.

There are teens who need to hear this. They need to hear it because like Melinda, they've been raped. They need to hear it because their parents abuse them, or because they cut, or or or--there are as many reasons teens need this book as there are teens. We want to believe that things like this will never happen to our kids, to the teens that we know, but unfortunately that is not reality. Aren't we supposed to be preparing teens for the real world? How can we do that if we don't let them read books that depict it?

However, my anger at this censorship stems from a deeper issue. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, 60% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. These victims are afraid to speak out. Some fear retribution from their assailant, but many of them fear being ostracized by society. Even if we've moved past the mentality that rape is the victim's fault, which is debatable, it is still seen as something dirty that shouldn't be talked about.

This is why I was so angry that Speak, a book that is about finding the courage to report rape, would be silenced. How can we censor something that is about fighting self-censorship? The irony is deep. Scroggins' opinion piece equates the rape scenes in Speak with soft pornography, dirty and wrong. If I was a teen rape victim in Republic, MO, I would then assume that my own story is dirty and wrong. I said it earlier and I'll say it again: Teens need Speak. They need to know they are not alone; they need to know they will be heard if they will just... speak.

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