I get asked often (every writer does), Why this book? Why this topic, these themes? Why now?
Those questions get particularly pointed when a writer steps outside of their comfort zone, as I did with A Woman of Valor, to write about sensitive topics—in this case, rape, child abuse, and domestic violence.
Did I have to make Valorie a rape victim? What drove that decision?
To be candid, with A Woman of Valor, at first it was a seat-of-the-pants choice. The motivations behind the actions of Val’s adult character cried out for the type of past that results from child abuse of some sort. It seemed a natural fit.
It wasn’t the only option, however. When I got serious about revising Valor last year, I started doing research, not only on the psychological impacts of childhood trauma, but on the incidence of those types of crimes and the likelihood that the perpetrator would get away with those actions unpunished. The results were staggering—sickening, even:
- 300,000 cases of domestic abuse are reported annually in the US — almost ninety percent against females.
- That equates to one out of every 500 women, every year. One in five women (some say one out of four due to underreporting) will experience sexual abuse or domestic violence over their lifetimes. (The two crimes are uncomfortably linked.)
- For a city of 200,000 (such as Worcester, MA, Tacoma, WA, or Fayetteville, NC), that translates into two to three cases per week. Nationally, it’s one every nine seconds.
Well, that’s a lot. So it must mean a lot of guys get locked up for life, right? Spend the rest of their miserable lives getting beaten and raped in prison by fellow inmates?
Wrong. Nationally, the conviction rate for men actually charged with these crimes is less than one percent. But get this: over eighty percent of reported rapes get filed as misdemeanors. Of the remainder, ninety percent plea-bargain down to misdemeanors or get charges dropped. Most are right back home with their partners without missing a meal.
If you do the math, that means out of 1,000 report rapes, maybe 100 get charged. Of those 100, 80 bargain down to a lesser charge. And maybe one of those 80 gets convicted. One out of a thousand.
But it’s worse. Those numbers reflect reported rapes. Experts say three-quarters of rape and domestic violence victims never report it to police.
You may argue that mixing rape with domestic violence blurs the lines here and renders the numbers misleading. But the truth is exactly the opposite. Most rape victims know their attackers. Most are family members or friends (including live-in boyfriends).
So the next time you hear someone say a rape victim brought it on herself by wearing skimpy clothes or by getting drunk, or that a woman could somehow reduce her chances of violent attack by avoiding those behaviors, remind them: women are at greater risk from men they know than from strangers.
This is why I wrote A Woman of Valor the way I did. Because people need to become aware of these realities. I hope that my small piece of fiction can help spread the word, especially to men, that these aren’t just women’s problems. If anything, violence against women in our society is a problem owned almost entirely by men.