Friday, 3 April 2009

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month – the frightening statistic is that 1 in every 6 women will be assaulted in their lifetimes. Sexual assault is not limited to age, income, race or even gender. Experts estimate that 1 in every 33 males will also be victims of sexual assault. Too high, much too high. Even 1 person is too high.

We can teach our sons (& daughters) that NO means NO. We can teach respect for everyone around us. We can teach prevention, encourage safe behavior, refrain from sexist remarks and provide resources for continued education. But until our society, and societies worldwide, can end this violence, this form of dominance, this cruelty, this tragedy…

When I first wrote Bartlett’s Rule it had not been my intention to start a campaign – I wrote about a woman who survived a rape and she continued to live – she even fell in love. After all, I did write a romance novel with the requisite happily ever after. The journey though that Paige Andrews and Lon Bartlett take towards their HEA is fraught with turmoil and eventually growth. While a victim can survive, and Paige calls herself a survivor, rape does change your life. The reader experiences some of the shame Paige has felt even though she has learned that what happened to her was NOT her fault. Lon has to change his ways when he fears that his own sexist behavior might have inspired the kind of attitudes that are used as excuses to victimize women.

While I didn’t try to stand on a soapbox, I have been extremely honored to learn that several book clubs have used Bartlett’s Rule for discussion because of the sensitive topic. I have even been told there are a few women’s shelters who have added my book to their lending libraries. It is a topic that needs to be discussed and my publisher has thoughtfully helped me put together a “discussion packet” to help groups begin –

Discussion Starters for Bartlett’s Rule by Chelle Cordero
1. How does Bartlett’s Rule explore the two distinct personalities of the main characters?
2. Discuss how the different personalities emerge in the beginning of the novel. Do these personalities stay constant?
3. How much do you think society’s expectations influenced Lon towards building his reputation as a player?
4. What pressures does society place on men in relationships? How different are those pressures now in 2008 as opposed to, let’s say, the 1950’s?
5. Lon admits he has to rethink his view of rape when he learns that Paige was raped by an ex-lover and not a stranger with a weapon. Discuss different concepts of what is rape, what is sexual abuse?
6. Have a discussion about Paige’s emotional scars and the trust she felt was betrayed. Should Paige “just get over it”? How realistic are some of her reactions? Was Paige allowing herself to move ahead? Discuss Lon’s support of her.
7. Hal attempts to blame people like Lon for the way he treated Paige. How does TV/music/movies/novels affect actions and at what point is the individual responsible for his/her own actions? For example, courtroom dramas like to blame the influence of TV, etc. for today’s violence.
8. Some TV/radio/print personalities enjoy an almost cult following and are considered “experts” in their various fields. Discuss some of these self-proclaimed “experts”: Dr. Ruth, Oprah, Dr. Phil, Geraldo, etc. Do these ‘stars’ sensationalize rape? How so?
9. How do you think you would feel if your private life, particularly romance, was scrutinized by the paparazzi? How much does a public figure owe to the public and fans in terms of privacy? How much does the media have the right to report?

In the back of Bartlett’s Rule, readers will find a list of resources and suggestions for recovery:

Emotional First Aid for Survivors
1) Anything and everything you experience is normal. Your reactions, feelings and experiences are all valid, you are not going crazy. You have the right to express your feelings in any way you want or need.
2) The rape was not your fault. You are not responsible for what happened to you in any way. You have nothing to be ashamed about.
3) It’s time you take care of yourself. You definitely deserve it. You are a valuable person and deserve the best life has to offer. You need to come first, so do whatever makes you feel better.
4) No matter what anyone says, you are a good, strong woman.
5) Other people may hurt or disappoint you. They do not understand how you feel. Disregard anything hurtful.
6) You are not dirty or used or damaged.
7) You are safe, the rape is over.
8) You are not alone. There are people ready and willing to help (friends, family, social workers, women’s shelters and other resources are always readily available to you.).
9) Hang in there. It may become difficult at times, but you will survive. You already have survived the worst.
10) YOU HAVE DONE NOTHING WRONG. Place the blame where it belongs. And, remember: You are a good, strong, beautiful, wonderful person.
(Source: YWCA: Richmond, VA)

Online Support and Information Groups
National Women’s Health Information Center
Pandora’s Aquarium
Surviving the Memories
Escaping Hades
Safe Horizon

Bartlett's Rule

Be safe.



Lindsay Townsend said...

Thanks for this post, Chelle. It is a such vital issue.

Savanna Kougar said...

Chelle, it is a vital issue. And thank you for bringing more awareness to all of us.

Personally, and this is ONLY my opinion, which I can state because I went through a similar situation as your heroine, I think girls/women should be encouraged to learn ways to protect themselves by learning a martial art, psychological techniques and how to use weapons.
Unfortunately, our society has become so averse to standing up for ourselves and each other in the ways that truly work and have worked in the past, this kind of reprehensible behavior will merely continue.

Chelle Cordero said...

While self-defence courses are certainly worthwhile, and prevention should always be enforced, victims should never feel that they "didn't do enough" or "didn't say no loud enough".

BTW, as I said earlier in my post, men can also be victims and my novel Courage of the Heart actually involves a male survivor. He actually admits to feeling "inadequate because there was nothing he could do to stop it."

Savanna Kougar said...

Chelle, I certainly didn't mean to suggest those particular strategies are the only answer. I certainly don't think the person, male or female, should feel guilty because of what was perpetrated against them. In fact, if my attacker hadn't been so pathetic and psychologically damaged, I would have felt like doing him in... which, I have no problem with.

Chelle Cordero said...

In Bartlett's Rule, Paige had trusted her rapist and when she realized that he did intend to hurt her he had already gotten the upper hand - so she was convinced that it was her fault that she hadn't been more successful in fighting him off.

Last year one of the major mags ran an article about "grey rape" and caused a huge flurry of accusationsd on both sides - one of the lines, "said NO too softly" was especially inciteful in a lot of arguments.

That is why I always stress that it is NEVER the victim's fault no matter how much or little they do to thwart the attack.

I am glad to hear the strength in your words "what was perpetrated against them" - too often self-blame and loathing results in self-destructive acts and further tragedy.

Savanna Kougar said...

Chelle, you are so right about that!

LK Hunsaker said...

Excellent post, Chelle, and I'm glad your book is being used to help women and raise awareness.

My WIP involves a young rape victim also and it gets hard to write. Did you have to take steps back now and then to pull yourself out of it?

Anonymous said...

My name is Keith Smith. I was abducted, beaten and raped by a stranger. It wasn't a neighbor, a coach, a relative, a family friend or teacher. It was a recidivist pedophile predator who spent time in prison for previous sex crimes; an animal hunting for victims in the quite, bucolic, suburban neighborhoods of Lincoln, Rhode Island.

I was able to identify the guy and the car he was driving. Although he was arrested that night and indicted a few months later, he never went to trial. His trial never took place because he was brutally beaten to death in Providence before his court date. 34 years later, no one has ever been charged with the crime.

In the time between the night of my assault and the night he was murdered, I lived in fear. I was afraid he was still around town. Afraid he was looking for me. Afraid he would track me down and kill me. The fear didn’t go away when he was murdered. Although he was no longer a threat, the simple life and innocence of a 14-year-old boy was gone forever. Carefree childhood thoughts replaced with the unrelenting realization that my world wasn’t a safe place. My peace shattered by a horrific criminal act of sexual violence.

Over the past 34 years, I’ve been haunted by horrible, recurring memories of what he did to me. He visits me in my sleep. There have been dreams–nightmares actually–dozens of them, sweat inducing, yelling-in-my-sleep nightmares filled with images and emotions as real as they were when it actually happened. It doesn’t get easier over time. Long dead, he still visits me, silently sneaking up from out of nowhere when I least expect it. From the grave, he sits by my side on the couch every time the evening news reports a child abduction or sex crime. I don’t watch America’s Most Wanted or Law and Order SVU, because the stories are a catalyst, triggering long suppressed emotions, feelings, memories, fear and horror. Real life horror stories rip painful suppressed memories out from where they hide, from that recessed place in my brain that stores dark, dangerous, horrible memories. It happened when William Bonin confessed to abducting, raping and murdering 14 boys in California; when Jesse Timmendequas raped and murdered Megan Kanka in New Jersey; when Ben Ownby, missing for four days, and Shawn Hornbeck, missing for four years, were recovered in Missouri.

Despite what happened that night and the constant reminders that continue to haunt me years later, I wouldn’t change what happened. The animal that attacked me was a serial predator, a violent pedophile trolling my neighborhood in Lincoln, Rhode Island looking for young boys. He beat me, raped me, and I stayed alive. I lived to see him arrested, indicted and murdered. It might not have turned out this way if he had grabbed one of my friends or another kid from my neighborhood. Perhaps he’d still be alive. Perhaps there would be dozens of more victims and perhaps he would have progressed to the point of silencing his victims by murdering them.

Out of fear, shame and guilt, I’ve been silent for over three decades, not sharing with anyone the story of what happened to me. No more. The silence has to end. What happened to me wasn't my fault. The fear, the shame, the guilt have to go. It’s time to stop keeping this secret from the people closest to me, people I care about, people I love, my long-time friends and my family. It’s time to speak out to raise public awareness of male sexual assault, to let other victims know that they’re not alone and to help victims of rape and violent crime understand that the emotion, fear and memories that may still haunt them are not uncommon to those of us who have shared a similar experience.

For those who suffer in silence, I hope my story brings some comfort, strength, peace and hope.

My novel, Men in My Town, was inspired by these actual events. Men in My Town is available now at

For additional information, please visit the Men in My Town blog at