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    Why It’s Important To Write About Rape

    Alexandrea Weis, RN-CS, PhD, is a multi-award-winning author of more than twenty-seven novels, a screenwriter, ICU Nurse, and historian who was born and raised in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Having grown up in the motion picture industry as the daughter of a director, she learned to tell stories from a different perspective and began writing at the age of eight. Today, she writes paranormal, suspense, thrillers, horror, crime fiction, and romance and has a strong following.

    Weis’s latest novel, Death by the River written with co-author Lucas Astor, delves into the dark world of sexual abuse and the psychotic underpinnings of a high school football star and his grisly fascination with pain. This depiction has put many readers on edge, and by doing so, Weis hopes to influence the choices women make when it comes to the men they date.

    1. Your newest release, Death by the River, involves a great deal of sexual violence against women. Why did you feel the need to incorporate that into this book? And do you believe violence is necessary when telling a story? In a culture saturated with the #MeToo movement and pro-women agendas, we have to realize that no matter how much we think we’re progressing, we haven’t accomplished a whole hell of a lot where education on violence against women is concerned. This novel can open the eyes of YA readers about assault and the aftermath. Books and movies can reach a larger audience and educate individuals. By bringing more attention to this topic through popular fiction, we can impact a generation and hopefully save many unsuspecting girls from dating or associating with the wrong kind of men. The violence in the book had to impact the reader, move them, and make them feel Beau’s madness. Otherwise, the book would not have created the visceral reaction needed to captivate. You can’t make a monster out of a man unless he commits evil on the unsuspecting. That creates fear. Without fear, books like Frankenstein and Dracula would never have become household names.

    2. Why make it YA? Why not for adults only? Teenagers are the most vulnerable to sexual assault. The majority of attacks don’t happen after a run in with a stranger—they occur with someone you know, or even dated. Seven out of ten rapes are committed by relatives, friends, partners, or acquaintances. And younger women are at the highest risk of assault (RAINN. org, 2018). In the State of Louisiana, where Death by the River is set, 600-700 acts of sexual assault in high schools are reported annually (Bale, L. 2018). Many mental health counselors feel the actual amount is three to four times that number. In a small state like Louisiana, that is a huge problem. Put those numbers on a national or international scale, and the image is horrendous. What does that say about how we regard women, not as a culture or nation but as a world? Women make up half the planet but are bullied and suppressed, beaten and raped, every minute across the globe.

    3. So why aren’t women reporting these crimes? For the same reason women have kept quiet for centuries—threats, intimidation, shame, and no one to listen to them. In Death by the River, the victims of Beau Devereaux’s debauchery keep quiet for the same reasons many young women in high school do today—fear of reprisals, humiliation, peer pressure, and lack of trust in “the system.” When high school counselors and teachers don’t listen or believe a young woman’s reports, she will more than likely never seek help. These girls will withdraw, change their appearance, live in dread of being discovered, and feel shame over what occurred. Before strides can be made to stop the abuse against women, we have to embrace a perspective of not assigning guilt to any victim and stop blaming women for being women. A person’s sex, personality, behavior, or clothes did not lead to the attack—the disturbed individual and their twisted disregard is the culprit. Sexual assault was the choice he made, not her.

    4. What is the story behind the story of Death by the River? What convinced you to take on such a project? I have known several friends who have been assaulted. I wanted to lend my support by advocating for them in this book. One girl haunts me—my Lady L. Popular, beautiful, a cheerleader, and a kind person, Lady L was admired by the girls in my class and noticed by all the boys. When she was asked out by a popular, wealthy boy from another school, rumors swirled in the halls. Especially about this guy’s penchant for date-rape. But no one told Lady L. Weeks after her date, everyone noticed a change in her. A young woman who had once dressed well and took pride in her burgeoning social calendar was seen in baggy clothes and withdrew from all activities. I remember noticing, and others mentioned it to me, but I didn’t recognize the signs because no one had taught us what they meant. Thirty-five years later, this high school classmate finally told her family, husband, children, and friends what happened to her. She lost her virginity to a man who had drugged and raped her. He never paid for his crime. His wife and children do not know what he did. I remember, after reading her post on social media, how sad I was I didn’t realize what the signs had meant. If I had, I often wonder what I would have done. My Lady L should be a wake-up call for young women.

    5. This is a very tough subject. What makes you qualified to write about it? I am a Registered Nurse. I have taught nursing at the university level and worked as a RN for thirty years. I’ve treated rape victims and their abusers. Being a nurse gives you a serious look into the dirty underbelly of our society and the atrocities we inflict on each other. I have held rape victims as they cried, talked them through rape exams, and also stood by as rapists—who were handcuffed to a bed—threatened to rape me. I have seen the physical and emotional aftereffects suffered by the victims and worked with the attackers who were caught.

    6. Why is Beau Devereaux such a compelling character? Starting in high school, we’re taught to find that special guy, often described as having looks and money, or smart and planning to be a doctor or lawyer. But these steadfast dogmas of the perfect man have undergone a radical change in the past few years. Suddenly, the boy next door isn’t what he seems, and we as women must wake up to the fact that prince charming may not be a dream, but a nightmare. That is what makes Beau Devereaux so important. He’s everything that would appeal to a young woman, but he is also a cautionary character meant to educate. You need to be careful when dating, and even in choosing who you associate with.

    7. You also made an intriguing statement about the right and wrong types of relationships in Death by the River? Was that intentional? Yes, it was. I have witnessed way too many women spend their days with the wrong kind of man, from neglectful and emotionally immature to abusive. A writer friend recently read Death by the River. She said she wished she could have read it in high school. No one ever told her what to avoid in a man, and this book could have saved her a lot of heartache. She was giving it to her daughter to read, and as she put it, “I’d rather expose her to the ugliness of what goes on and try to protect her from having it happen to her later.” Knowledge is power, and by educating young women about the kind of man to avoid, we may save them from a great deal of emotional pain and physical abuse.

    8. What can young women do to protect themselves from men like Beau Devereaux? Don’t judge a book by its cover. Listen to your instincts. And, if he seems too good to be true, he may have something dark lurking beneath the surface. Dating in today’s social media driven society should be regarded as defensive driving. You have to be cautious when looking for a partner, and the skills you use behind the wheel apply when meeting men—look at every one you encounter as an accident waiting to happen. Take your time, look for signs, don’t ignore red flags, and above all, trust your gut, not your upbringing. We all have that little antenna inside of us that goes up when something isn’t right about a person. Listen to it. The more you do, the better you will get at finding that good apple inside a basket of rotten ones.

    9. So, after all we know about sexual assault, the victims and the perpetrators, why do we continue to perpetuate the myths of prince charming and the boy next door? That is an excellent question, and we have to look at society as a whole for the answer. From a young age, girls are bombarded with fairy tales where prince charming sweeps a maiden off her feet to begin their happily ever after. Such indoctrination needs to end. Instead of teaching our daughters fairy tales with princes wielding swords, we should pass along stories about women who slay dragons and even save the prince. We can look to history for a myriad of examples of powerful women who changed the world. Since many scholarly books have been written by men, the tales of these women warriors have largely been left out of literature. It’s time to put them back in. Until our culture accepts that a woman can make a happily ever after for herself, without waiting for someone else to do it for her, little will change. We have to rewrite the narrative of expectations for girls before the suffering of women in our society will end. Change isn’t easy, but it is possible, even if we have to tackle it one fairy tale at a time.

    10. What would you like readers to do to help victims of sexual assault? Find your voice. Speak up and speak out against any form of sexual harassment, assault, or violence. If it happens to you, please seek help. Talk to officials, friends, family, and never keep quiet. If you know someone who has been a victim, stand beside them, support them, and believe them. Having someone listen is the first step to getting help. Talk to everyone you can, be an advocate for change. Get loud, get angry, and fight back against antiquated judicial systems and state and federal laws that protect the guilty and hurt the innocent. Women make up half the planet and together we are a force that no man can ignore.

    In today’s climate, writing about these issues, even in fiction, can have a powerful effect. If you feel empowered by this article or have questions for the author, you can learn more at www.AlexandreaWeis.com or by contacting her agent Italia Gandolfo at italia@ghliterary.com

    Bale, L. (2018, 18 September). High school sexual assault a common problem across America. Retrieved from https://www.wwltv.com.

    Perpetrators of Sexual Violence: Statistics. (October 28, 2018) www.rainn.org