My first “rape book” – as it’s come to be called – dealt with two teenage victims learning how to survive in the world. Obviously, the accused characters were presumed guilty from the beginning. They didn’t get any say in their defense because it wasn’t about them. A story that is meant to empower abuse victims has to belong to the victims. SHADES OF DOUBT purposefully takes a different approach, though, and is therefore harder to write because it tackles a scenario that is far too common: a respected pillar of the community is accused of assault. The majority of people who know him come to his defense, because “good guys” like him don’t do that.
Our justice system is (supposedly) structured around “innocent until proven guilty,” but the exact opposite mentality falls on the rape victim to prove her accusation is valid; she is a liar until proven otherwise.
Consequently, this story is supposed to be a lot more mind-bending: did he or didn’t he? Should she believe him when he says he didn’t do it, or should she investigate? Heck, what would any of us do if someone we cared about were accused of a terrible crime?
There’s no shame in saying we’d choose steadfast loyalty. When I think of the men who matter most in my life – my husband, my brother, my late father – I can’t stomach the thought of any of them purposely hurting anyone. I can’t imagine them capable of inflicting that kind of pain. If someone came to me and claimed to be assaulted by one of them, what would be my most logical response?
Once upon a time, I’d have called such an accuser a liar and gone on with my life. But I’ve been the accuser before: I agonized for years about whether to speak up, because I knew the shared acquaintances between myself and my rapist would essentially be forced to pick sides, and I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to involve outsiders unless I absolutely had to. But the statute of limitations came and went, leaving me with little choice. I spoke up…and prepared for consequences.
As you can see, none of my fiction is without autobiographical bits. I don’t share many of my character Adelaide’s values, but through her I seek to understand the mindset of those who know and even love my ex boyfriend, and how my speaking out made them feel. Believe me, I am not unsympathetic. However, my interactions with humans over the course of 26 years have shown me that anyone is capable of anything: myself included. Especially myself (for further validity of this theory, watch Breaking Bad. Really).
I didn’t ask for what happened to me, but I am responsible for how I handled things after, and the fact that I even contemplated certain means of justice – like going directly to my rapist’s family – troubled me. I spent many sleepless nights thinking of what I’d do if someone accused my little brother of rape, and if I’d be furious that that idea was even put into my head, or…if I would look into it. Because if you’ve never been a victim of abuse, or known someone who is, it’s hard to understand the importance of taking all accusations seriously, even if they concern people you swear are innocent.
It pains me to write that. But because my author brain thinks of characters as real people, their dilemmas become my dilemmas. Their pain becomes my pain. I want this book to ask questions of the reader that keeps them turning pages to find out what happened (or didn’t happen). I want my accused rapist to come off as a real ‘guy next door’ sort of person that any of us might know. If you ever read this book and ask yourself, “Why bother speaking up at all?” hang in there. That answer may not be self-evident, but it’s there.
SHADES OF DOUBT is almost finished and doesn’t have a release date…yet.