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BLOG STOP – GUEST POST: “Fear” by KA Merikan


Boys in our Books welcomes KA Merikan to discuss the topic of ‘dubcon’ (dubious consent) in books.

How to define ‘dubious consent’? Theoretically, if consent is dubious, then it’s not there, therefore whatever happens is not consensual. In real life, there is no ‘dubious’ consent. It’s either given or it’s not, but fiction grants the reader access into the minds of characters, and the borders between consent and lack thereof sometimes become blurry. As a writer, I don’t enjoy writing non-con scenes where there’s endless brutality and torture at the hands of some utterly evil villain. I do like to put the characters through the wringer though, and dubious consent situations in fiction are something that give me satisfaction on many different levels. They often create tension and conflict between the characters that is not external, but caused by the characters’ flawed actions, which creates conflict on the basis of cognitive dissonance in the character’s mind.

It seems though, from what I’ve read in many reviews of different books with this type of content, that there is a whole group of readers who will happily read explicit rape scenes written for titillation as long as there is no doubt left about the perpetrator being evil. I don’t know if it’s a question of political correctness, liking the protagonists to be pure and good, or of treating adult oriented entertainment as some kind of relationship manuals, but when violence and infringing on consent happens, all of a sudden it seems worse than full-on rape scenes. Same goes for asshole MCs acting all sorts of ‘wrong’ (ranging from unpleasant or possessive, to violent).

I’ve read many times that people actually consider this kind of content something that shouldn’t be written in books that have romance at the core, because it’s not ‘romantic’. But I will ask: who has the right to police what others consider ‘romantic’? If I find two killers bonding over a dead body, or a cannibal eating up his lover, romantic, do I not have the right to showcase that vision? I will obviously be in a niche, and most readers won’t share my ‘aww moments’ but I have actually read opinions that including themes of this sort takes your book out of the romance category.

I believe adults reading adult books should be given enough credit as intelligent people to be able to understand what the characters are doing. Their relationship might not be something a reader likes to read about, or is not attracted to, but I don’t think it’s a reason to say ‘one shouldn’t write about toxic relationships, what if people think it’s how things should be?’. Well, I assume my readers are intelligent and can tell fantasy from reality.

And this is where we get to one of the main points I want to make. I’ve been pondering on this for a while. Why do I enjoy reading and writing about violent men and their unsavory actions, when in my personal life I’d avoid men like that like the Plague? My parents taught me all about how a partner should treat me, all about self-respect, saying ‘no’ and being an all-round assertive person. So I suppose my attraction to anti-heroes and assholes stems from wanting to experience a fantasy, a situation I would never put myself in in real life. When writing, I don’t always try to create my perfect book boyfriend, but characters who are exciting and work for each other. One man’s meat is another man’s poison.

There’s no difference when it comes to exploring a fantasy in a book, be it non-con or dub-con. When I get all excited about a character doing bad things to the other, I don’t suddenly assume it’s okay to do those things in real life, and I give the same credit to my readers. I can’t exactly explain why villains or characters with dubious morality send a shiver down my spine and frankly, I don’t have to. Maybe it’s the confidence they exude, the raw sexual energy I feel when they exert their power, go against the grain of what’s right. It’s the same concept as behind the good old bodice rippers – the hero/heroine says ‘no’, but means ‘yes’, so I get to read about a character who is excited in some way, but also psychologically tormented – finger lickin’ mental masochism. It also often ends up creating a web of lies around the characters that I then enjoy slowly unraveling.

I’ve also noticed rape fantasy stories usually portray the villain being the rapist and then another MC riding in on their white horse to be the good guy (‘healing cock’ included). I can imagine it creates a nice, guiltless fantasy for some readers, where they can have all the ‘rapey fun’, and then see the culprit punished – the world is good again. Whereas with dub-con, it is something that more frequently happens between the two main characters who later on develop a relationship, so they have to deal with the aftermath of what they’ve done to each other. In real life, you’re advised to instantly get out of a relationship when there’s even a hint of abuse, but in fiction, the character isn’t you, he can make mistakes you (hopefully) wouldn’t make, because he’s flawed, because he excuses his partner or is just as bad as him.

There’s all sorts of types of dub-con.

  • says ‘no’, means ‘yes’. Because of personality, pride, situation, the other person’s position, etc.
  • says ‘yes’, means ‘no’. Prostitution, blackmail, etc. Most people aren’t mind readers, so the MC’s partner can be as much of a victim.
  • sex with someone drunk or drugged
  • boss/employee relationships where consent isn’t all that obvious
  • one of the MC’s is not honest about who he is, which means that the other can’t make an informed choice

They’re all sexual fantasies as well, just less straightforward than brutal rape.

Dubious consent is at the heart of our new novel The Copper Horse: Fear, though it could be argued that it’s non-con. I think it’s in some blurry space in between.

The premise is that Reuben, who has his set of forced sex and bondage fantasies from the very beginning, is abducted by Erik, a wealthy mobster with a passion (if not obsession) for ponyplay. Erik doesn’t care for consent, treating his new captive as an animal to be tamed, but what he doesn’t know is that secretly, Reuben is actually gay and increasingly enjoying his stay with Erik. That creates a dynamic where both men hold back some truths. On one hand, Erik holds Reuben as a ponyboy against his will, but on the other hand, the reader gets Reuben’s point of view which discloses all the secret pleasures. Objectively speaking, Erik is an evil man, the captor and abductor, yet he’s the one being blatantly cheated by Reuben into thinking that his pony is reluctant.

I like when the scales are constantly tipping from one side to the other for characters, for no one to yield complete power in a relationship even if it might seem that way at first glance. Erik is no sadist, and what he wants most is a soft-hearted, mild-tempered stallion for him to care for. He takes no pleasure in punishments as that’s not what’s at the heart of his kink. In a world where there’s no Internet to instantly connect to hundreds of potential partners, constant rejection from the men he does engage with must have made him frustrated and lonely. So, as time goes by and Reuben proves himself to be more and more the exact type of pony Erik yearns for, the scales of power slowly tip to Reuben’s side. Erik doesn’t have a POV, but I imagine it being hurtful for him to think that his pony will never reciprocate his feelings (boo-hoo, right? ;))

Reuben might be Erik’s slave, yet by knowing Erik is desperate to keep him happy, Reuben acquires leverage he never expected to have.

What I love most in stories, especially the romantic ones is that the characters you meet at the beginning are not the characters you end up with by the last page of the book. They change and influence each other. Dubious consent can develop into full consent and love, and seeing that change and a rising awareness of each other’s needs is a fascinating journey to take as a reader and an author.

Book Info:

18709593Title: Fear (The Copper Horse #1)
Author: KA Merikan
Publisher: Storm Moon Press
Pages: n/a
Release Date: March 7, 2014
Purchase Links: Storm Moon Press,  Amazon 

41 comments on “BLOG STOP – GUEST POST: “Fear” by KA Merikan

  1. ilhem3606
    March 11, 2014

    I agree that it is detrimental to the genre to label what is romantic and what is not, what belongs to romance and what does not. It is important that readers can find the niches that appeal to them, and that the genre encompasses all kinds of reading tastes.

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  2. Pingback: Copper Horse blog tour and giveaways :) | K.A. Merikan

  3. Heidi Belleau
    March 12, 2014

    I have a couple comments I’d like to make.

    Speaking as someone who does prefer her rapists to be villains (though not always), it’s not about “political correctness” or about “treating novels as instruction manuals”. It’s about having a different fantasy and liking a different dynamic. If romance novels are about escape and wish-fulfillment, and erotica is about titillation, well, I just happen to not experience any of those things with a rapist-as-hero, whereas a rapist-as-villain with all the gory bits left in is very enjoyable for me. It’s not a “fun guiltless fantasy” where I get to pretend I’m better than someone who prefers a different dynamic. It’s not simpler or easier, either, it’s just different. Sure you can write a rapist-as villain and healing cock story and have it be lazy or poorly executed, but you can also write a rapist as villain and a rape recovery narrative as being fulfilling, complex, and nuanced. Similarly, you can write dub-con that’s psychologically twisty and complex and thrilling, but you can also write it sloppy without any examination of the issues at hand or any real character work. It’s not an issue of the subject matter, it’s an issue of the skill and care of the author.

    Also: while I completely understand the appeal of a fantasy for danger you haven’t been IRL, nobody “puts themselves in” abusive situations. I’m genuinely happy you’ve never been in an abusive relationship, but many of us have, and that’s not a character flaw. It’s just a fact that is.

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    • Kat Merikan
      March 12, 2014

      I agree that it’s about liking a different dynamic. I don’t find one ‘better’ than the other, only a preference in what one considers exciting. It does come down to skill of how the story itself is executed, though if dub-con/non-con isn’t someone’s titillation, no amount of writing skill will make them get into the story that is supposed to be exciting on some erotic/romantic level.

      I see what you mean, maybe my wording was a bit unfortunate, but what I mean is that sometimes people lack the knowledge or support to get out of abusive situations. That’s why there are so many campaigns to raise awareness of what abuse is and how to escape such situations, because there are a lot of people who struggle with even acknowledging the situation they’re in.
      But to make it clear, I don’t mean that it’s someone’s *fault* that they are abused. What I mean is that the example I gave: constantly excusing an abusive partner is clearly a bad choice. I can see where it stems from though and I enjoy exploring that in books, because people have all sorts of relationships and it’s not always black and white.

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      • TracyTG
        March 12, 2014

        I just wanted to jump in and say that the words “bad choice” when describing why an abusee excuses their abuser may not be the best wording. Often an abusee may not fully realize the situation, understand that they have a choice, or that they may see a choice, but that the threat of death they face from their abuser makes it feel like the choice isn’t an option.

        There’s a great TED talk from a domestic violence victim who describes herself as “what you may not think of as someone who would be a victim of DV” but is actually one who, in her words, is very typical for how victims fall into these relationships: http://www.upworthy.com/ever-tell-yourself-youre-in-love-with-a-deeply-difficult-person-instead-of-facing-the-truth

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        • Kat Merikan
          March 13, 2014

          I did use the word ‘choice’ because even if the person doesn’t see it, technically, they’re making a choice (I’m not saying it’s an easy choice). When I think about it, I suppose what makes this conversation so hard is that ‘abuse’ is such a wide term. It’s impossible to generalize, when each case is different and the scale of abuse can be so different. We could be talking about someone getting verbal and emotional abuse, and it can be rape and torture.

          “Often an abusee may not fully realize the situation, understand that they have a choice, or that they may see a choice, but that the threat of death they face from their abuser makes it feel like the choice isn’t an option.”

          Absolutely.

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          • TracyTG
            March 13, 2014

            Using words like choices or bad choices for abuse victims though can turn very loaded and victim-blaming, so I’m mostly mentioning this as a heads-up. For those in abusive relationships (verbal, physical, etc, and I disagree that the range of abuse is an issue. Abuse is abuse.) often times the ability to make a choice that would be deemed “rational” to those outside of the abusive relationship is lost. That’s why it’s so important as an outsider to look for signs of abuse (isolated behavior, excusing the batterer, etc) and try to help the victim on a pathway to safety. If you’re in chaos, making “good” choices is difficult or may kill you, so I think it’s good to refocus the dialogue so we don’t end up abusing victims further, even just by the language we use to describe their actions.

            To reiterate Heidi’s point, if you haven’t experienced abuse, that’s awesome! May it always be so! But if one has, the language describing why or why one was in that situation can be hurtful, triggering, or invalidating. And that may be partially why there is such a range of emotions connected to this topic.

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  4. syleegurl
    March 12, 2014

    I have to be honest, I’m not one to read or enjoy non-con, dub-con, torture-kink, rape-kink. And that’s ok. :) We do have reviewers on our blog team who actually find this interesting and entertaining reading (when done well) and I love that we have such varying tastes.

    I don’t always understand the why’s of what makes people aroused by one thing or another…some people love GFY, virgins, cowboys, shifters, mpreg…and some don’t. So, reading this post is very enlightening to me. And since more than anything, our blog promotes the honest conversation about books, I welcome it!

    FOR ME…the one part of the post that I do actually struggle with has nothing to do about consent. It’s actually the argument that I’ve seen used so many times that ‘we’re all adults here’ and that makes the automatic assumption that we’re making good decisions, that we know what we’re doing, and even as Kat says here…that we’re ‘intelligent’. It’s a dangerous assumption sometimes. We may all be adult-aged. But I fear that saying that with age comes the ability to know right from wrong, to understand that which incites emotions and responses, etc , well, that’s not actually true is it? So there’s always that risk that there’s someone out there reading this book and NOT understanding that this might just be fantasy, etc.

    Again, even though I don’t read non/dub-con, I do believe anyone has the freedom to write it, read it, enjoy it, etc. And I am in no way suggesting it’s the author’s responsibility to ensure that everyone who reads their books is able to handle the content. But, I just don’t think it’s safe to assume that because your readers are all adults (and can we even make that statement as a fact?) they’re able to understand or even process it…it’s being overly generous with credit where it may not be due.

    And that’s my concern more than anything…

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    • Kat Merikan
      March 12, 2014

      Thanks for your input, I think it’s a very valid point. The problem for a writer though is that I can’t control who reads my books. They’re meant for adults and I can only make the assumption that it’s for adults who know what they’re getting themselves into. Because if I were to assume a lower common denominator, I’d have to make sure all the issues are spelled out to the reader or make the assumption that they can’t handle something. In the end, I’d have to self-censor, worried that the book gets into hands of children etc. In return, I would get the readers who are aware of some issues and like to have trust put in them, annoyed that I’m writing as if they’re stupid, or that I’m preaching at them about issues they already know about.

      So in a way it’s a lose/lose situation, because you can never satisfy everyone. Because of that, I chose go the way of trusting the reader that they will ‘get it’, even though I already know some won’t.

      I will turn the tables though and ask: what do you think would be the answer? Self-censoring or putting it out there and hoping for the best? ;)

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      • syleegurl
        March 12, 2014

        Oh no…self-censoring is not what I’m suggesting at all…

        I think authors can write whatever and readers can consume whatever.

        But I think with things like either eroticized or romanticized non/dub-con (and this could be argued with any topic, really…but more so with that which is of any kind of ‘questionable’ (for lack of a better term) content), there’s a risk of what that possibly triggers or passes for ‘allowable’ behavior.

        And I don’t suggest it’s the author’s responsibility AT ALL…that’s impossible. But I do think that when you put anything out there for distribution and consumption that’s out of your hands/control, we should at least acknowledge the exposure/danger that go along with that. If that makes sense….

        I just personally don’t love when we use the argument ‘we’re adults’…because that actually doesn’t mean anything except we’re over 18 in my mind…

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        • Kat Merikan
          March 12, 2014

          I think putting warnings on the content is some kind of acknowledgement, but just like some books/movies/games are considered ‘adult content’, the line has to be drawn somewhere. Even is some people are still immature over 18 (or over 30, 50, or 80 for that matter ;) ), they’re adults in the eyes of the law, so I suppose that’s how they should be treated.

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      • Sam Schooler
        March 12, 2014

        “I’d have to self-censor, worried that the book gets into hands of children etc.” This isn’t what Heidi or Susan is talking about. We’re not talking about the fact that the book may get into the hands of someone younger than 18, we’re talking about the fact that a book that is put out there with rape content and the narrative of that book paints the rape as fine or even positive.

        We’re not talking about age at all—the fact that someone could be 30 or 50 or 80 is irrelevant to the discussion Heidi and Susan are trying to have. The discussion that’s trying to be started here is the discussion that encompasses rape culture.

        Regardless of a person’s age, it shouldn’t be their responsibility as a reader to read a book where rape is advocated by the text—and if it is not painted as morally incorrect by the narrative, then it is indeed advocating for it—and go, “Oh, wait, no, that’s wrong!”

        Most people would have that reaction anyway, yes, but the ethical responsibility of authors like you and I, who write books with non-con and dub-con, is to show through the narrative that we as authors do not morally stand behind the actions of our rapist characters. Not doing that? Means the book is perpetuating rape culture, particularly in situations where the victim ends up with the rapist and there’s absolutely no commentary from the narrative or the plot as to why that is Not Okay.

        My issue with this blog post lies mostly here: “I’ve also noticed rape fantasy stories usually portray the villain being the rapist and then another MC riding in on their white horse to be the good guy (‘healing cock’ included). I can imagine it creates a nice, guiltless fantasy for some readers, where they can have all the ‘rapey fun’, and then see the culprit punished – the world is good again.”

        Honestly? That section reads as pretty condescending to me. I write about people in horrible situations. I write about horrible people. I don’t write books that criticize my rapist characters because I like a “nice, guiltless fantasy.” I like writing recovery narratives. Every book I write with rape content will likely have a love interest who is not the rapist—to provide the “healing cock,” apparently—and that person will likely be someone who has come through what happened with them, because I like books that have romance and have hope in the darkest places.

        I’m not saying I’ll never write a character who is Stockholm Syndrome’d into a relationship with their rapist, because I like writing about Stockholm Syndrome, but even though my MC will think their love interest is okay, the narrative will absolutely show that it isn’t. I’ve already written stories where the rapist gets away, but the narrative is so clearly slanted against them that no reader would ever think I hold the opinion that rape is romantic, or that rapists are sexy, or that rape is a perfectly fine way to begin a healthy, consensual relationship.

        Bottom line: I take a lot of care to make sure my readers understand my moral position as an author and the undeniable fact that rape is wrong. Because it is.

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        • Kat Merikan
          March 12, 2014

          I hope you noticed I wrote ‘usually’ and ‘some readers’. If you don’t see it that way, then it’s not pointed at you and the ‘healing cock’ is not a ‘recovery narrative’. I don’t understand why you would compare those two. I never wrote that a ‘recovery narrative’ is the same as a ‘healing cock’. If you don’t know the trope (which I’m sure you do, so I don’t know why you argue against it being a silly trope) it’s a situation when all the victim needs is one good sexual encounter to shed all of their problems. Which is obviously silly and unrealistic.

          “I don’t write books that criticize my rapist characters because I like a “nice, guiltless fantasy.””

          You might not, but some people do. You are only one person. People have all sorts of different attitudes to their reading material.

          “the ethical responsibility of authors like you and I, who write books with non-con and dub-con, is to show through the narrative that we as authors do not morally stand behind the actions of our rapist characters. Not doing that? Means the book is perpetuating rape culture”

          What I’m trying to to pinpoint in what I’ve written is that dub-con can be a kink like any other. A kink that can be someone’s pleasure to read about and I don’t see why it should be policed any more than other guilty pleasures. Even if it was a whole book written from the perspective of a rapist, it could be someone’s kink. My whole post is about that.
          Someone likes to read about brutal rape, someone likes to read about a guy being an asshole.

          “or that rape is a perfectly fine way to begin a healthy, consensual relationship.”

          No one says it’s ‘fine’, but it CAN be the beginning of an interesting, engrossing story. I personally enjoy watching people on a journey from a dark place, a relationship based on violence and power-play to understanding and a deep bond. One of the longest, biggest stories I’ve written starts off with a dub-con/non-con situation and exploring it is fascinating. It leaves a scar that forever stays on their relationship, but seeing them change, grow, learn about each other is extremely satisfying. Also from the more violent person’s perspective, as with time, guilt rises to the surface in him and it’s interesting to see him struggle with something he can never take back.

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        • Ilhem
          March 13, 2014

          It is an interesting discussion, one I can’t find an easy answer to. As much as I do not condone rape culture, I bristle at the idea of not being given responsability of what I read. I agree that authors have an ethical responsability for that write, but readers have a critical responsability for what they read, and I surely wouldn’t like being dispossessed of that, just like I wouldn’t like things to be too simplified just to make sure my reader self doesn’t get confused.

          Again, it is not an answer, only an element of.

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          • Kat Merikan
            March 13, 2014

            That’s the tough bit, especially if you have an unreliable narrator in the book. I personally prefer to show the character’s actions and let the reader be the judge of them, especially that when the tables turn, for me as a reader, half the fun in reading is interpreting the characters and trying to understand their motivations. Just like when I watch a movie, start thinking something about a character, only for something else to be revealed and make me think some more.

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          • Sam Schooler
            March 13, 2014

            Sure, both authors and readers have responsibility. The author’s responsibility as the producer is to create and present their text in a way that doesn’t contribute to the real-world problem of rape culture, and the reader’s responsibility is . . . well, whatever each individual reader feels their responsibility is. I don’t think authors are dispossessing you of your critical responsibility as a reader by using their narratives to portray rape as morally wrong.

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  5. ilhem3606
    March 12, 2014

    I’d say that the answer (if there is one) is probably somewhere between censure and just putting it out there and hoping for the best. :)

    Just to be clear, non-con tends to turn me off, and I do not make any distinction between dub-con and non-con, so I might be totally out of the loop as far as rape fantasies are concerned.
    However, I am interested in reading stories that explore among other things how someone can be manipulated into consent, or manipulated in believing he/she has consented, or how someone can delude oneself in believing the victim had kinda consented, because the story might be one of rape and blurred lines, but in the end, it is about consent. That’s my mid-point, I think.

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  6. Sara
    March 12, 2014

    Not sure I will make a point but I have a few thoughts…

    For me, I love stories that include both dub-con. I agree that dub-con does not exist in reality and that what makes me like reading it on the page. You get inside that person’s head and you know that this may be something they fear or at first do not want, it turns them on and they end up wanting that. I think that can be said for many situations outside of sex. That being said…books dealing with alternate universes play to a different set of rules that I do not understand. Maybe it’s due to my self proclamation of being a lazy reader and not enjoying world building or maybe it’s an easy way for authors to get away with things that wouldn’t pass in traditional settings? I am not sure.

    Dub-con to me is just another form of kink to try to put it somewhere. Just like someone does not understand persons will to submit, you have to be inside the individuals head to understand why they would consent in this way. It’s a fine line but it’s there. I have read a few books where I think it crossed the line into abuse but having both POV’s you know what each is thinking. That again, is what’s important and fascinating to me.

    In regards to “we are all adults,” that is neither black and white for me. I began reading bodice rippers at the age of 11 as I snuck them out of my older sister’s library and bought The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty as an 18yr old virgin. Did those books make me want things that were in them because they excited me? No. Not at that time but I have always been of the mind frame that books were not real unless you read non-fiction but then, that’s another story. Authors hope their words intended for mature adult audiences gets in the hands they belong but I know that isn’t always the case. I do like disclaimers or author’s notes on books letting the reader what may be in play. Case in point The Flesh Cartel series, which I happen to enjoy immensely. I know from the notes/disclaimers there is forced incest so I am prepared for that. But then again, the first series of books I bought with my own hard earned baby sitting money was Flowers in the Attic which did not tell me up front that siblings Cathy and Chris would get it on nor did it stop me from going on to reading others series by VC Andrews that focused on the same relationships. Were those romantic? I fell in love with the relationships so I would say there was an element but it so hard to stick every book into a slot for each genre/sub genre etc.

    As for non-con, ugh. I don’t prefer my rapist anyway but impaled on a spike. I will say that I get that there is an audience for it and yes I have read it. Reading is supposed to take us into the book and immerse us into that world. The non-con aspect is not romance to me; it’s about power and control in a way that is not romantic at all. I don’t look for romantic heroes to get off on that. The difference lies in the wordage; dubious means “doubtful,” “uncertain,” and “questioning” where non is just that, NO. Unwanted.

    I feel like I am talking in circles…time for me to jump off the merry-go-round.

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  7. shelley
    March 13, 2014

    I get what everyone is saying and I agree with all the points raised. I honestly feel that reading dub-con is a choice that IS made by an adult who consents to read about it for whatever reason; the psychological aspect, the rape fantasy, the stockholm effect or even as a personal challenge. Because we do push ourselves to discover our limits and what better, safer way to do that through fiction. And that’s the keyword for me; it’s FICTION, it’s not real! Yes these books might hold triggers for people who have been affected IRL, but if you are a victim of abuse you might not be choosing a book with a cover like this one that is titled ‘Fear’ I mean…

    Now perhaps I missed the finer points raised here cos I’m not all that smart about debates and stuff I just grasped the broader idea, I think. So I’m an adult, I’m married, I have kids, my life is dull apart from the joy I get from my small family. I like to read dub/con because the psychological aspect intrigues me and yeah, I get a rush from it – when it’s done well. That is my choice, my responsibility and I do not feel like I am drawn to the rape culture at all! To suggest or even imply it is offensive to me as an individual who does enjoy dub/con. Now I feel like I should feel guilty for reading it and that kind of sucks.

    I hope that other readers have the foresight to check the warnings when CHOOSING to read dub-con cos really, that’s what they are there for. The rest is all nitpicking as far as I’m concerned. But that’s just my opinion, I’ve never been one to over analyze – it is what it is. You choose right?

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    • Sam Schooler
      March 13, 2014

      “I like to read dub/con because the psychological aspect intrigues me and yeah, I get a rush from it – when it’s done well. That is my choice, my responsibility and I do not feel like I am drawn to the rape culture at all! To suggest or even imply it is offensive to me as an individual who does enjoy dub/con. Now I feel like I should feel guilty for reading it and that kind of sucks.”

      I just want to clarify that you definitely shouldn’t feel guilty! And that no one who’s commented so far is trying to shame you for reading non-con/dub-con. In fact, a good chunk of the authors who have commented here are active writers of non-con and dub-con on a regular basis. We’re not saying that you reading those books and enjoying them is perpetuating rape culture. No way.

      The point we, as those authors, are trying to make is that when a narrative which contains rape paints that rape as acceptable and sometimes even as a positive beginning to a healthy consensual relationship, that’s problematic. There are books out there where rape is the beginning of a relationship. There are books where that relationship becomes a genuine bond. There are books that do this well. The MC may think the rapist is charming, they may discover his “deeper side,” and that’s fine to explore. But the text should never design that situation as one where the rapist is free from implication or consequences.

      I guess my main point–and just me, I’m not speaking for anyone else here–is that you’re right! It’s fiction, not reality. But when authors decide to tackle an issue like rape in their books, which has so many real-world problems surrounding it, there is baggage that comes with writing it. Rape isn’t just like any other kink/trope, or any SSC/RACK kink at all. We can’t pretend it is.

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      • ilhem3606
        March 13, 2014

        Writing “Regardless of a person’s age, it shouldn’t be their responsibility as a reader to read a book where rape is advocated by the text—and if it is not painted as morally incorrect by the narrative, then it is indeed advocating for it—” does dispossess me, because you say that it is not my responsability to read a book that you decided was bad for me. You decide that a book is advocating rape, because it is not painting it as morally incorrect, but it’s your interpretation, not mine. It doesn’t matter that I might agree with you once I’ve read the book, it is *my* read and *my* responsability. Also, it leaves a sea of possible interpretations of what painting rape as morally incorrect actually is, and therefore of what rape culture is as opposed to rape fantasy in fiction.

        Like

        • Sam Schooler
          March 13, 2014

          I think you and I may have fundamentally different ideas of the implications of showing rape as okay in books. I don’t think there’s a sea of interpretations–I think it’s fairly obvious when a text’s narrative is disapproving of a rapist’s actions. I’m certainly not attempting to take anything away from readers, including the freedom to interpret, criticize, and enjoy a text openly based on their own experiences and perceptions. I’m saying that writers should be mindful of what they’re putting out there and what kind of moral statement they’re making.

          Like

  8. Agnes Merikan
    March 13, 2014

    It’s very hard to establish where responsible writing begins and where it ends. People aren’t empty pages, and so all content they read will be filtered through their mind, and the end product might be completely different from person to person. The same sentence might be interpreted as either neutral or ‘poorly worded’ depending on the individual reader’s perceptions. Even the comments under this post reflect that to some extent.

    A reader, mature or not, will read the book with pre-existing ideas about sex and violence. If their attitude is healthy, then no kind of unreliable narrator can make them change their behavior in real life, but if they are receptive to cues of violent sexuality he or she might not only be inspired by a truly violent book/movie, but also by something completely innocent. The truth is that no amount of pointing to the villain or explicitly condemning rape/murder can possibly stop someone unstable or prone to those cues from getting inspiration from the book. The responsible thing authors can do is to properly label their books but everything else is out of our hands.

    Like

  9. Susan, Sam, Heidi and I aren’t talking about readers not being smart enough, or old enough to make their own choices or read ethically.

    Readers can and do make smart, informed ethical choices when they consume books. They can and do realize the difference between fantasy and reality.

    I am not trying to make an argument about a reader’s right to choose what they read or their ability to be able to enjoy a fantasy without thinking it applies to reality. I am not trying to make an argument for kink shaming or kink policing. None of this is what I want to talk about.

    I want to talk about the ethics of writing and especially the ethics of writing things that are darker, grittier, or Very Bad when they happen in the real world.

    Because what troubles me about this post and what I think has troubled other people is that what you seem to be advocating here is for writers to have no ethical responsibilities when it comes to what they produce.

    This article seems to say if I can others find this attractive and readers are smart enough to know the difference between fantasy and reality I have no ethical responsibilities as a write to think about the way things get produced and reproduced in written text.

    What you seem to be advocating here in the article and the comments is for authors to feel free to put forward images and narratives that reproduce violence and abuse many people experience every day in real life without any kind of commentary on it at all. In fact you seem to be against adding commentary whether directly or subtly, because it will in some way police what others might find attractive, because it might dumb down the text. Or that adding a narrative that comments on the content of the story in some way is some how useless between people will take whatever they want from the next anyway.

    I also see readers like Sara and Shelley commenting and saying “Yes! we have ethical responsibilities that we take seriously when we consume books of all sorts.” But as writers do we have no ethical responsibilities at all?

    I am not talking about censorship or policing anything here I am talking about thinking critically.

    Is there no connection between popular culture and what happens in the real world? Is rape culture not build on a series of images that in all seriousness condone rape or abuse and represent it as natural, normal, or not a big deal? How do we as authors distinguish our work from the work of people who really do believe rape in the real world is all right?

    Your answer seems to be that we don’t. We don’t need to. That this is not a real concern, that even asking these questions isn’t important. That by even asking these questions we are some how kink policing or kink shaming.

    You seems to be saying that I personally find this hot and my readers are smart, so this is a non issue.

    But to me it is an issue. It is a really serious issue. Because I, as a writer and a reader, don’t want to ever think that I supports and help legitimate rape culture. Because I am a survivor of both sexual assault and an abusive relationship. AND because I enjoy reading stories about characters who are forced into sexual service against their will.

    So it becomes vital to me to talk about and take seriously how, as readers, to consume these kinds of fantasies ethically BUT ALSO how as a writer to writes these kinds of fantasies ethically.

    For authors this involves having conversations where we really critically look at how we write about these issues and the messages we are sending. Both individually and as a writing community.

    Because the fact of the matter is while our readers are smart, lots and lots of people don’t think rape is a big deal. They think men can’t be raped. They think if a woman flirts with her attacker than deep down she wanted it. If she’s drunk than she wanted it, if she dresses in certain way than she wanted it. If she’s a ‘slut’ than deserves to be raped. If he’s gay than he deserves to be raped and will enjoy it anyway. They think that you can’t rape someone you are in relationship with.

    They don’t know that if a person consents but then gets scared or upset half way through the sex act but their partner pushes them to have sex anyway that is sexual assault. Most people don’t know that consent has to be verbal, that people who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs can’t consent, that consent can be withdrawn at any moment for any reason or no reason at all. That everyone has the right to say ‘no’ to anything and have that respected 110% of the time.

    This isn’t the attitude of a few evil people who will be inspired by anything no matter how hard we try to put our point of view across. This is the attitude of hundred and thousands of people all over the world and it is an attitude that is enforced by everything from advertising to politics.

    That is the culture we live in and like it or not every writer and artist who addresses the question of consent HAS got to think about that.

    That becomes doubly so when we are talking about romance. Because romance as a genre already gets so much flack for our history of romanticizing rape. Not as a sexual fantasy for those of us who get off on reading non-con but in a legitimate rape can be the start of a happy healthy relationship, rape is no big deal, rape is romantic, kind of a way.

    In real life rape is not romantic, it can not be the start of a healthy relationship. In real life abuse is not romantic, an abusive relationship can never be salvaged into a healthy relationship.

    Period. End of story.

    If you believe that any of that is possible in REAL LIFE than you are part of the problem that kept me in an abusive relationship for almost two years even after it wound me up in the emergency room more than once. You are part of the reason survivors find it so hard to walk away.

    I don’t think any of us wants that. At the end of the day no one, not readers — not writers, want to have their kink contributes to rape culture, contribute to someone’s real world suffering.

    Which means both readers and writers have an ethical responsibility to think critically and ask hard questions about how we can still enjoy our kinks and put a stop to this kind of thinking.

    We are not the old school romance writers that portrayed rape as unproblematic, as just another part of a healthy normal relationships.

    I would like to be able to say with all honesty that we are smarter and better educated than that. In fact I do say that a lot. To those people who believe that romance can never be a woman-friendly, queer-friendly genre I say people who write and read romance are smart. We think critically, we have important conversations, we take responsibility for our pleasure and what we produce. In fact I’ve argued that we are MORE ethical than other genres, that we have things we could teach male dominated genres like fantasy and science fiction about how to think and talk about these issues critically while still finding ways to write what we want to write. Even the darker grittier stuff — hell especially that.

    But in order for me to keep making that argument we as writers need to be also doing that hard work. Not just dismiss the entire conversation.

    Like

    • Kat Merikan
      March 13, 2014

      All the points you’re making here:
      “lots and lots of people don’t think rape is a big deal. They think men can’t be raped. They think if a woman flirts with her attacker than deep down she wanted it. If she’s drunk than she wanted it, if she dresses in certain way than she wanted it. If she’s a ‘slut’ than deserves to be raped. If he’s gay than he deserves to be raped and will enjoy it anyway. They think that you can’t rape someone you are in relationship with.”

      And further on, are valid, but I’m not sure what point you’re trying to put across. You’re preaching to the choir. The fact that, as you point out, people have so many attitudes to consent, coming from lack of knowledge or empathy etc, for me is something interesting to use for character building. Sometimes people deny, or not even realize they were raped, but it doesn’t mean they’re left cold. I, as a writer, will try to show how they were affected through other means, but the reader will have to interpret it. Because if the character doesn’t have enough self-awareness, I don’t want to flat out put it in their PoV.
      By saying that it should always be pointed out what is right and what is wrong, you take away the opportunity to write unreliable narrators.

      I think another problematic point of this discussion is the issue that comes back of having to show that this or that kind of abuse is wrong, but we’re not talking about any concrete examples of what is enough and what isn’t. In my mind, the stories I write have a criticism of those ‘bad’ actions, even if subtle or left to interpretation. But where is the line supposed to be drawn? What is enough pointing to it and what isn’t? Because at the moment we’re turning in circles of nothing more but personal opinion. What amount of commentary to the situations in a book is enough? Who gets to decide?

      Not to mention that if you decide to write about attraction for the darker side, about a mafia boss as a protagonist, if someone wants an exciting story about killers, a Bonnie&Clyde kind of thing, they don’t want to be taken out of the narrative by underlining how bad what the characters are doing is. The reader wants to immerse themselves in the world through the PoV.

      I don’t dismiss the conversation around abuse, consent and psychological issues. I’m interested in those and sexology in general, but characters don’t have to be posterboys for good behavior. I discuss things with my co-writer, with other writers, read, but then I write books which to me are exciting and entertaining. If someone gets something more than an emotional rollercoaster and (hopefully) an orgasm from them, then good, but I don’t want to shove it down peoples’ throats.

      Like

  10. Lee Lee
    March 13, 2014

    I just wanted to jump in and say that EE made a lot of good points but the one that stuck out the most for me was the point that romance novels can teach people and maybe change how a person views the world around them. I view any kind of novel or story as a work of art and art is very influential. As a visual artist and knowing artists for most of my life there are many who think very seriously about how their work will be viewed, what the experience will be, and how the viewer will carry that experience with them into the world.

    Art does not exist in a bubble whether it is fantasy or not.

    It seems that there are a number of romance writers who see their novels and stories as just these fantasies that people will enjoy (or not) and that it will not stay with them in some way. It’s art, it’s an experience and experiences can change people whether it be for better or worse. I definitely think that authors should acknowledge that responsibility and give it serious thought.

    Many romance authors want to be taken seriously, be seen as “real and legitimate writers” , and be respected. I think that one of the steps toward that goal should be to see yourselves as not just writers but as artists who create an experience that can (and probably will) bleed into the real world even if it’s in a small way, especially when dealing not just with lack of consent but with any serious issue.

    Like

    • Kat Merikan
      March 13, 2014

      It’s interesting that you would say that from an artist perspective, because it’s the art world in particular that is known for pushing boundaries and there are lots of artworks that show a problematic topic without commentary, leaving it completely open to discussion and interpretation.

      I’m a painter/illustrator and now that I think about it, I always had the same attitude to visual art as I do to writing. When creating art work, I always believed it was worth what people would take away from it, without me putting an explanatory plaque to it. I loved the discussions the art sparked more than I would like to flat out tell people what i thought my own artwork represented.

      I suppose even with books that are pure entertainment, I like to make people stop and think.
      In our book “Special Needs”, which is basically an erotic romance comedy, there is an underlying theme of accepting a mental disability that the main character has. What he is going through, are very serious issues, but I think showing them subtly, having others not accept them at once, creates a story for the reader to unravel. The reader is shown the MC’s problems and they can make their own decision of if they feel for him or think he’s actually an idiot with a non-issue.
      I would like to think that I’ve taken the reader on a journey, to make them gasp ‘that’s so offensive! I don’t believe this asshole is doing this!’ and then take them farther, make them understand why he’s doing it, so by the end of the story they got to see both sides of the story.

      Like

      • Lee Lee
        March 13, 2014

        I don’t see anything wrong with pushing boundaries but I think that responsibility has to be taken for the content that you’re putting out there. Whether you as the artist or writer comment on something or not you are still putting something out there. If it’s something offensive or something outside of the “norm” whether you say you agree or disagree you’re still presenting something (an idea or visual or whatever) that most people probably haven’t envisioned or thought of. To me, you’re creating a possibility for the viewer. If you want people to go “oh that’s offensive” and then see that there are two sides to the story then your commentary is that there are always two sides to a story. If you then have a romantic relationship grow out of something like rape then whether or not you’re saying “oh, that’s great for love to form that way” you’re still saying that it’s a possibility. Some people might say that by not condemning it you are, to an extent, passively supporting that idea. I’m not sure if that’s the case but I think it’s a valid argument.

        Like

        • Kat Merikan
          March 13, 2014

          I like exploring the idea of love growing in all sorts of circumstances. People can be so complex, that in some situation it’s possible for a relationship to change into a good and healthy one. I don’t see why presenting an exception from the rule would mean I support the concept of rape in a relationship or something of this sort. It’s a story.
          It’s like saying the creators of Dexter the TV show, support serial killers or that the creators of Batman are responsible for a kid that jumped out of the window thinking he could fly.

          I understand the point of owning what you’ve written, but how far is responsibility supposed to go?
          The creator is not every character in the book, they create a story.

          Like

        • Lee Lee
          March 13, 2014

          I should have said that you might appear to be supporting it or adding to rape culture or however someone might word it.

          Like

          • Kat Merikan
            March 13, 2014

            Well, I’m not, but some people will still think that way. I can’t help everything people decide to think. Just like you’ll have people who will tell you writing ANY graphic rape is supporting ‘rape culture’.

            Like

  11. Agnes Merikan
    March 13, 2014

    It’s interesting that I have read the same post as Sam and E.E. and I would have never interpreted some of the statements the way you guys did. This is proof of how our preconceptions influence our understanding of the same material. And no, I don’t want to write the same stuff I did earlier ;)

    What strikes me in some of your comments is that instead of giving the author of the post a credit of good will, you interpret it from a very negative perspective and see the confirmation of your initial interpretation in every subsequent answer. This is only natural and that is how most arguments on the Internet start, so let’s just try and be more objective.

    – When she mentioned her personal attitude to domestic violence, I thought she wanted to say that her interest in abuse doesn’t reflect her real life, yet some of the comments address what she wrote implying that she is expressing lack of understanding toward victims of domestic violence.

    – When she says she doesn’t want to be preachy or blatant, and is interested in the perspective of the asshole/rapist, some of the commenters assume she is “advocating” lack of any responsibility of the authors. She never said that. All she said was that she believes that at the end of the day, we have no control over how our work is interpreted, that she is interested in plotlines that are… very morally dubious, and that she believes we should believe readers are intelligent enough to know something is morally wrong. What she didn’t say is that we have no responsibility, and can put out whatever without thinking of the consequences.

    E.E. is right that art and literature can alter perceptions. But this is not that straightforward when the reader is actively seeking scenes of brutality. If someone is aroused by scenes of brutality then the narrative of condemning the culprit will not alter that person’s perception of anything because they get a major part of their gratification from graphic brutality. Technically speaking, taking pleasure from reading brutal scenes is conditioning the reader into seeking more of it. Now whether this person is healthy and will get their fix out of books or sexual role play, or whether they’re deviant and will potentially try to live out those fantasies is another thing altogether.

    As someone who used to work with sexual offenders, I know that showing the culprit in a negative light just doesn’t work. Those experiences also made me be very dubious about books that depict extreme violence and torture. I believe they can be very harmful (no matter in what context the violence is depicted), but I also believe that condemning someone’s narrative choices in fear of how they could influence the reader is a thing of the past. That does not mean that I believe we have no responsibility as authors. What I think is that as long as we put out work labeled as fiction, labeled as dub-con and non-con and depict the characters realistically, the reader will get the message. Isn’t the MC’s pain enough of an indication that what the rapist is doing is wrong? I think it is, the reader doesn’t NEED more cues.

    It’s the same with storylines where a romantic plot starts with a dub-con situation. Nobody says it’s a fun, games, and flowers – in a story that is believably written (I know that some of you think there isn’t anything believable about this kind of narrative but let’s agree to disagree), the characters will experience the consequences of their actions sooner or later. If the story isn’t written as a typical fantasy, the weight of reality is going to hit the characters. I think it is an interesting storyline to explore, I have enjoyed it since I remember, and I can’t understand why it would be less valid than another person’s pleasure from reading about the character’s pain and terror.

    At the end of the day, books that include non-con and dub-con scenes are not mainstream, and people who read them are usually seeking out this kind of content. We do have to include warnings in blurbs and not promote rape as something positive, but that is something I think we ALL agree on.

    Like

    • Sam Schooler
      March 13, 2014

      “We do have to . . . not promote rape as something positive”

      This is it. This is my point. Yes, this.

      Everything I have been saying has been pointing to this, and the majority of Kat’s comments have been totally refusing to acknowledge it.

      As for everything else, frankly this blog post and both Kat’s and your comments have really dipped my opinion of both of you. It’s not that I had an “original negative interpretation,” because I have read quite a bit of your work and approached you both originally, a few months ago, with an attitude of friendliness and fellow authorliness. But I just absolutely cannot, after thoroughly reading your opinions on this subject, agree with any more than a slim portion of what you say, and I think your attitudes toward writing non-con and dub-con are incredibly damaging.

      I don’t know how to further illustrate the points I and many other people have tried to make to you guys in this post and on Twitter prior to this post. The both of you have moved to the point of being willfully ignorant and dismissive of the points of view of people who a) write dub-con and non-con and b) have been raped and who have been in abusive situations–including me–and I am very done trying to make points when all I’m doing is shouting into a void.

      Like

      • Agnes Merikan
        March 13, 2014

        Sam: If you choose to believe we are ignorant then there is nothing we can do about it. I still have a positive attitude toward you and everyone else in this discussion. What I pointed out is how I understand what you have written, so I have done exactly the same thing as you. I am not being dismissive, I am trying to point out that some of the things you believe Kat said might not be the things she is actually saying. This is my oppinion, I try to express it the best way I can, but I can’t do anything more than that.

        Like

      • Kat Merikan
        March 13, 2014

        I don’t see why you don’t address almost any of the points I’m making, and instead, drag the conversation into real life issues and your personal experiences. I write about books, fiction, entertainment.
        I don’t want to repeat myself, but I’ve asked in my posts, since I agree that PROMOTING rape is obviously (SO obviously) a bad thing: where do you draw the line? What is enough commentary for the story not to be perceived as promoting and who gets to decide?

        Once again – I agree that rape/abuse/promoting it are bad, it’s so obvious that I’m annoyed it even needs to be discussed. What I’m asking is how much or how do you think it should be pointed out in a story for it to be made okay?
        I’m not being snarky, I’m genuinely discussing this, as it’s hard to discuss without an actual example.

        Like

    • Heidi
      March 13, 2014

      What strikes me in some of your comments is that instead of giving the author of the post a credit of good will, you interpret it from a very negative perspective and see the confirmation of your initial interpretation in every subsequent answer. This is only natural and that is how most arguments on the Internet start, so let’s just try and be more objective.
      – When she mentioned her personal attitude to domestic violence, I thought she wanted to say that her interest in abuse doesn’t reflect her real life, yet some of the comments address what she wrote implying that she is expressing lack of understanding toward victims of domestic violence.

      You may have the option of being “objective” about issues relating to abusive relationships and how we talk about them as a culture, but I do not. Objectivity is something my abuser took away from me, and the fact that I have personal experience and thus cannot be objective does not invalidate my right to speak on the issue and combat unhealthy and unproductive language and the beliefs they represent.

      If someone perceives a statement as victim blaming, it’s not on THEM to “be more objective” about their own experiences, it’s on the original author to apologize and reconsider their language in the future. We live in a world where abused people are regularly criticized for not doing the right thing, not seeing into the future, not magically knowing an abuser is an abuser before the abuse starts, staying with an abuser, not fighting back, fighting back too much, all examples of how they are responsible for their own abuse, how they “put themselves in the situation”

      I concede that Kat likely didn’t mean any of those things to that degree, but her choice of language reflected/reinforced that culture and that attitude, so I politely pointed out that her choice of words was inappropriate. Politely pointing something out IS “giving her a credit of good will,” and I resent you implying otherwise.

      Like

      • Agnes Merikan
        March 13, 2014

        Heidi: I am sorry if you interpreted my comment as an attempt to criticise you. You were very polite and to the point, and the example with domestic abuse came up because there was one more person talking about this, and it seemed like a good example of how something meant as a neutral statement can be interpreted otherwise. I am not trying to force anyone to change their interpretation, but rather point out that the original author might not have meant it the way it was read – which you pointed out in your original comment.

        Like

        • Heidi
          March 13, 2014

          I think Tracy’s comments were right on, actually. But I’d say it’s less “neutral statements can be interpreted otherwise” but instead “what you think is a neutral statement may in fact be reinforcing of a negative trend whether you realize it or not.”

          Like

          • Agnes Merikan
            March 13, 2014

            That is a good point, but this is why it’s good that the post has a comment option and we can work things out. It is true that sometimes no matter how many times we re-read something, it can still be understood in so many different ways and I am sure I have also read too much into some of the comments here.

            It’s a good thing you are a part of this discussion because I really liked the post you wrote on non-con, especially because you did acknowledge that dub-con is just as valid as a topic.

            Like

      • Kat Merikan
        March 13, 2014

        Heidi, I don’t want to delve into my personal experiences in general, because I don’t feel comfortable about it. People have different levels of openness and as much as I love to discuss writing theory, I don’t like to put in a lot of personal stories in there (I’m not saying you shouldn’t, feel free).
        I think that because it’s such a sensitive topic, you interpret what I write about ‘some people’ as ‘every victim’.

        When I write characters, sometimes it’s also the ‘victim’ acting badly, there’s better choices he could make and I think what it comes down to is that I never have a story with a flat out victim/abuser dynamic, because an inequality of power doesn’t create an interesting story (for me). I like stories where the scales keep tipping from one side to the other, where both people have the power to argue. One time it’s one of them being violent, next time it’s the other.

        And I like that even though we might not agree, or simply like to write/read different things, we can discuss them.

        Like

        • Heidi
          March 13, 2014

          Yeah but here’s my problem. There are some things you need not say about ANY victim, let alone all victims. Criticizing even one victim of violence is one too many, as far as I’m concerned. It’s an unproductive exercise and actively harmful to people still in abusive situations, people escaped and recovering, and to our culture as a whole.

          Like

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