When is it OK for kids to read YA books about rape or incest?

I just posted on the excellent Graceling trilogy and added that I would not let my 10 year old read it because of the rape and incest. I suggested 15 might be a good age. Then I went back and edited, remembering the rape and incest, while central to Bitterblue, is only implied near the end of Graceling. It’s not in Fire. So then, I thought maybe 12 years old for the first two and 15 for Bitterblue? And then, it occurred to me that rape and incest happens to kids all the time. In that case, reading about it in this context would be helpful. How ironic to censor something in a book that describes what’s happening in a kid’s real life. So, then I concluded, it’s such an individual choice. With sex, I didn’t want my kids reading about it or seeing movies that referenced it, before I had “the talk.” I wanted them to learn about sex from me first, rather than from a kid at school or from a movie. I had the conversation with my daughter last Spring, when she was nine. It went really well, and since, she’s come to me with questions, and she seems comfortable talking about it. But rape and incest, I’d like to protect her from the knowledge of a little longer.


I did a Google search, remembering something I’d read on dark YA lit a while ago that was good. Here’s a quote from the post and the link.

The underlying assumptions behind Gurdon’s piece seem to be rooted in the idea that children read books with heavy content and ‘go bad,’ when in fact the opposite is true. Some children lead dark lives and they read books with intense themes to find protagonists they identify with in an often hostile world. Some young adults read about rape and bullying and violence, eating disorders and self harm and mental illness, because these are things they experience.

Alas, the belief that bad things do not happen to children and young adults is not limited to naïve Wall Street Journal columnists, and it does far more damage than mere dubiously-sourced articles that attract a storm of commentary. The belief that childhood is a happy place, where bad things don’t happen, where you don’t need rose-tinted spectacles because everything is already rose-tinted, has direct and harmful impacts on children and young adults in danger.


I don’t think my child would “go bad” from reading about this stuff. Nor do I think if a child is into these books, that means she’s leading a “dark” life. I think, and I could be wrong, if my ten year old daughter picked up Bitterblue, she’d read it cover to cover.

Also, for my kids, I do believe childhood is a pretty happy place for them and should be protected as such. Obviously, that doesn’t mean Disneyworld to me. I think Disneyworld is tremendously warped. But it does mean I want my kids to experience the belief in safety and also in magic. I believe that covering up “reality” to protect a child’s developing imagination is an important part of parenting and also, of being a kid. If your child has safe boundaries, she feels brave enough to take healthy risks. Psychologist Stephen Mitchell explains this well in his excellent book, Can Love Last: the Fate of Romance Over Time:

One of the things good parents provide for their children is a partially illusory, elaborately constructed atmosphere of  safety, to allow for the establishment of “secure attachment.” Good-enough parents, to use D. W. Winnicott’s term, do not talk with young children about their own terrors, worries, and doubts. They construct a sense of buffered permanence, in which the child can discover and explore without any impinging vigilance, her own mind, her creativity, her joy in living. The terrible destructiveness of child abuse lies not just in trauma of what happens but also the tragic loss of what is not provided– protected space for psychological growth.

It is crucial that the child does not become aware of how labor intensive that protracted space is, of the enormous amount of parental activity going on behind the scenes.

What are your thoughts on all this?

Update: Heather comments that her 8 year old daughter learned about rape and incest when a classmate brought porn to school.

Based on the brief snippets of content she saw, I had to not only have “the talk”, but also explain a LOT of things I never thought I’d have to address at that age. Because of this, conversely, she is now very educated on both sex, misogyny, and rape/assault/child abuse.  Therefore, I think these books that are written about very serious issues — but in the comprehension style of a young person who can find the characters identifiable — is a great source of information…I have not read these books to endorse them, but now I am interested and will be checking them out at the library. Thank you.


Heather’s comment make me think that if your child knows about rape or incest, these books are appropriate for her or him. (I really hope parents of sons will get their kids this trilogy.)

New York Times hasn’t approved my comment

I just checked the NYT site and my comment asking to print Jyoti’s name, quoting her father, and asking why they are following India law in reporting news has not been approved yet. I’m kind of shocked. I wish I had made a copy of it so I knew exactly what I wrote. Maybe it will come up?

I don’t see the comment from Beth either who posted on Reel Girl’s FB page that her comment was not approved. She wrote: “Her name is Jyoti.”

I did see one great comment:

Her name is Jyoti, and her father has said that he wants the whole world to know who she is. Just because India is a sexist, misogynistic culture and therefore refuses to publish Jyoti’s name does not mean that the NY Times should participate in silencing her.

Her name is Jyoti Singh Pandey, and how dare you leave it out.


I take that comment to illustrate that the US is also a sexist and misogynistic culture.

Here’s the comment from Disgusted that I referenced earlier:

I was watching a PBS news program on Asia just before dinner when it showed a news headline with the photo of her father saying something to the effect that he wanted the world to know her name, and he gave it: Jyoti Singh. Her name is all over the internet now; hope it is acceptable here.

This was presumably to protest how shame has always attached to the victim, but he was breaking that assumption by proudly announcing her name. There was a photo of her, a wonderful smiling one.

So please get moving NYTimes with the Jyoti Singh Memorial Fund, NOW. Surely that is not beyond your legal expertise. Of course, of course you don’t want to establish a precedent for every heartbreaking story you run. Or some one or entity might decide in future to sue the NYT for its handling of monies.

The legal and accounting beagles must have those contingencies in hand by establishing a liaison to a reliable non-profit in India with impeccable credentials. Whatever the in’s and out’s, the paper of record can negotiate them, right?

I would be suspicious of corruption, but there must be a way.


Other than those two, I seen none referencing the censoring of Jyoti’s name, though I haven’t read through every single one.

I don’t think the New York Times has ever not approved a comment of mine before. Maybe I shouldn’t be offended, maybe it happens all the time, but it seems odd, and I have to wonder how many people have posted similar comments that aren’t being shown.

Have you asked the NYT to print Jyoti’s name and why an American publication would follow India law in how it reports on a crime?


New York Times refusal to print Indian rape victim’s name is America’s rape culture

In a post about the family of Jyoti Singh Pandey, the Indian woman who was gang raped and murdered in India, the New York Times refused to print her name. Here’s the publication’s explanation for why:

The daughter — whose name is being withheld because it is illegal to name a rape victim in India without permission from the victim or her next of kin — showed as a very young girl a love for school, her father remembered.

In covering this story, the U.S. media has widely referred to India’s “sexist culture.” So why in reporting this crime would The New York Times adhere to the laws of a sexist culture? Why would an American publication follow Indian law on how to report on rape? At what other time does a country’s laws dictate how its news is reported in The New York Times? If India’s law applied to political dissidents, would the New York Times refuse to print names?

Not only is this capitulation startling, but days earlier, Jyoti’s father, Badri Singh, told The Mirror that he wants the world to know his daughter’s name:

We want the world to know her real name,” says Badri Singh Pandey, an airport worker who had just returned home when a Delhi hospital called to say his 23-year-old daughter had been in an “accident.” “My daughter didn’t do anything wrong, she died while protecting herself. I am proud of her. Revealing her name will give courage to other women who have survived these attacks. They will find strength from my daughter.” Indian officials have refused to name her, and mainstream Indian media still refers to her as “Amanat,” or “treasure.”

Singh’s nameless daughter, “a treasure,” had an “accident.”

If a country cannot speak of rape, how can it stop it? And why is the U.S. news coverage of rape just as lopsided and distorted as India’s is?

Ten years ago, I was working in talk radio, when two teenagers, Tamara Brooks and Jacqueline Marris were reported missing. Their pictures and identities were broadcast everywhere as a means of saving their lives. And it worked. Once the teens were rescued, they were discovered to be rape survivors, and TV stations began digitally obscuring their faces. Newspapers like the New York Times rushed to delete the names and photos of the girls from the next day’s paper. Some publications, like USA Today, had already gone to press, and printed the story with photos and names on the front page.

Newspapers and TV broadcasters explained the shift as a matter of courtesy. Most  mainstream U.S. media observes a self-imposed policy, like India’s legal one, of withholding the names and faces of sexual assault victims. But in working so hard to mask these women who everyone knew, it was clear that the implication was that rape is so intimate and horrendous, they should not be seen. The media is promoting the belief that when sexual assault is involved, the victim is partly — or wholly — to blame, and should be hidden from view.

Soon after, Marris appeared on KABC, the local Los Angeles news station, to talk frankly, without embarrassment, about her ordeal. She revealed, among other details, the fact that she and Brooks had tried to escape by stabbing their abductor in the neck.

A few days later, Brooks and Marris both appeared on the “Today” show to tell the story of their capture and captivity, a gripping account in which they described being threatened with a loaded gun, smashing their abductor in the face with a whiskey bottle, and later watching him die.

When asked why they chose to talk about their experience, Brooks said that she wanted to do it, and came forward with the support of her parents, who braved some criticism about the decision. She and Marris, Brooks said, “want to get the message across to everybody to never give up on anything. If you ever give up, you’ve lost. Whatever obstacles you have, you’ve got to fight your way through it.”

This past week, Sohalia Abduhali wrote about her rape in India in an op-ed for the New York Times:

THIRTY-TWO years ago, when I was 17 and living in Bombay, I was gang raped and nearly killed. Three years later, outraged at the silence and misconceptions around rape, I wrote a fiery essay under my own name describing my experience for an Indian women’s magazine. It created a stir in the women’s movement — and in my family — and then it quietly disappeared. Then, last week, I looked at my e-mail and there it was. As part of the outpouring of public rage after a young woman’s rape and death in Delhi, somebody posted the article online and it went viral. Since then, I have received a deluge of messages from people expressing their support.

 It’s not exactly pleasant to be a symbol of rape. I’m not an expert, nor do I represent all victims of rape. All I can offer is that — unlike the young woman who died in December two weeks after being brutally gang raped, and so many others — my story didn’t end, and I can continue to tell it.

The media rushing to taking away women’s names or voices because they have been raped doesn’t protect them. Surely, no one can pretend that hiding Jyoti’s name serves her. So why do we keep we doing it?

In 2002, I wrote about Marin and Brooks for Salon in 2002 in “The ‘Shame’ of Rape.’ Parts of that post are reprinted here. You can read the original Salon piece here.



Penis key

Spoiler alert to ReelGirl subscribers: don’t read this post until you search for penises on your own in the post “Rape or menage a trois with your vodka.”

The three erect penises in the Belvedere vodka ad:

(1) the Belvedere Vodka bottle

(2) the garnish of two olives and swizzle stick

(3) the shadow on the woman’s arm and blue balls (ha ha)

Rape or menage a trois with your vodka?

She’s blind folded, her fingers curled in fear, teeth bared, she’s screaming. Just behind her lurks a man’s face, smiling demonically, a deadringer for Jack Nicholson’s grinning psycho-killer in “The Shining.”

The latest horror movie? No, a new ad for Belvedere vodka in Gourmet Magazine’s May pasta issue. There within the pages of recipes for orecchiette with cauliflower or pappardelle with lamb ragu, a rape scene. I count three penises in this ad. Can you find them?

Belvedere Vodka ad from Gourmet Magazine 

Tonight, after the kids finally went to bed, I headed for the couch with two very different publications, or so I thought, Us Weekly and Gourmet. Except, I guess, when it comes to reaching out to vodka drinkers, highbrow and lowbrow find common ground. Tossing away the rape scene, I opened Us, and there was a menage a trois, a campaign that might win the tea baggers, sorry, I mean the tea parties, some new followers.

I count three penises in the Skyy ad too, including the bottle itself, and the two cherry stems, one ejaculating, but my husband disagrees, saying no guy wants identify with the cherry stems. For the key to hidden penises in the Belvedere ad click here. (Hint: sexually frustrated.)

Skyy vodka ad from Us Weekly