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“Sexuality as the Culture Defines it”: Acquaintance Rape in Recent YA Novels

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  • SSHRC IDG awarded 2019: If the #MeToo Movement has drawn wide attention to the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace, then it has also brought notice to the facts that most victims of sexual assault know their attackers, that most rapes go unreported, that we live in a rape culture, and that most of the victims of rape are young adults (YA), most often females in their teens and early twenties. We understand now what Andrea Dworkin argued in 1976, that rape really is sexuality as western culture defines it. Fiction for young adults has always reflected, and in some cases adumbrated or affected, cultural trends. It comes as no surprise, then, that more than one hundred YA novels about acquaintance rape have been published in the past decade. The proposed research project seeks to answer two key questions about what these texts teach their young readers and society in general, questions that heretofore have gone unasked within this genre: what do we learn when we focus on the rapist, and how do we understand the manifestations of shame that often debilitate victims of acquaintance rape? In the case of the former, I plan to analyze how the novels that feature the rapist, as protagonist or someone close to the protagonist, work against dominant cultural assumptions that a victim is responsible for her rape. Drawing on, and sometimes contesting, current work on masculinity, toxic and otherwise, this study will trace the ways in which these novels forefront constructions of the young man who rapes, and what can be learned from those characterizations. In the case of the latter, I will use recent work on affect theory, particularly that which focuses on shame, although affect theorists seldom, and surprisingly, rarely write about the emotional aftereffects of sexual assault. I will be covering new ground in analyzing how shame works to debilitate and as a catalyst, to turn victims towards destructive behaviors or to move them towards transformations that will see them heal and grow stronger.

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    Research Material
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    ©️Harde, Roxanne. All rights reserved other than by permission. This document embargoed to those without UAlberta CCID until 2023.
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    Harde, Roxanne