“You think what happened to Stacey was fair game. It was boys being boys. Just a trashy girl learning the hard way what can happen when she drinks too much and wears a short skirt.”
TRIGGER WARNING – Rape.
Do you remember the Steubenville High School rape case? Because I remember it very well. For me, it stood out among other news stories and I still recall the cold fury that washed over me whenever I read a report about it. I like to be aware of current events, but I wouldn’t call myself a follower of news stories. This one, however, became an obsession.
Steubenville was different, you see. We are all bombarded with stories about murders and rapes almost every day. We all know it’s bad, the cops know it’s bad, the reporters know it’s bad, and we all shake our heads together at the murderers and rapists – those ugly blemishes on society. But Steubenville was the first case where I was shocked – horrified even – at the way the media portrayed it.
I still remember so vividly how I felt reading those articles about the young girl who was raped by several male students while passed out drunk at a party. I remember how the articles began by describing her tendency to drink and go out, her unfortunate background, and I remember thinking – why? Why is the rape victim portrayed as careless, trashy, even deserving? Why is that reporter getting teary-eyed when talking about the destroyed futures of the male students?
This girl was being shamed for getting herself raped. And not only that, but she was being shamed for ruining the futures of her rapists. I was furious for her then and I still am furious now.
What We Saw is based on that case. Told from the perspective of a girl called Kate, its strong, powerful narrative takes on themes of sexism, slut-shaming, feminism and consent – the importance of saying no, the importance of saying yes, and the importance of knowing that being unable to say no is not the same as a yes.
It looks at an issue that makes me so angry – the blaming of rape victims. For being drunk, for wearing revealing clothing, for flirting, for dancing:
“Well, I just think it’s awful what that Stallard girl is doing to them. Dragging their good names through the mud.”
“Look, this is not rocket science. It’s common sense. If you don’t want to work a guy into a lather, keep your cooch covered up.”
But it also stands out from other books that look at these issues. With a spin that particularly relates to the Steubenville case, Hartzler draws on themes of how what we’re shown isn’t always the full story. How the media can reveal only part of the story – to powerful and damaging effect. And how not saying what you saw can make you just as guilty.
Nothing is exactly as it appears.
The closer you look, the more you see.
It’s heartbreaking, terrifying, disturbing and oh so very important.