In my novel, Into the Free, Millie Reynolds struggles to overcome many difficult situations in her life, one of which is a serious sexual assault. This event happens near the end of the book, and Millie leaves us when she is still in shock – numb from the traumatic episode. She reaches an understanding of what it will take to overcome the damage and the pain, which is the first step, but she has not yet completed that journey. (That’s why the sequel will allow readers to follow the next phase of Millie’s story).
Many readers have reacted to the ending of the book. They loathe the man who attacked Millie. They want him to suffer and they don’t want him to get away with what he’s done. They want vengeance. And they want it NOW.
This is a natural reaction because by this point in the book we care about Millie. We don’t want one more bad thing to happen to her, and we are angry at anyone who hurts her.
I could have worked in a fairytale ending. The good guy could have swooped in to save her. The bad guy could have died at the hands of Millie’s loved ones. Millie could have risen up and handled the situation differently. And believe me, I considered all of those options. But reality tells us a different story…and while Into the Free is a novel (which means it’s all pretend), I wanted it to be believable. I wanted the story to be authentic to a character who is so steeped in the flaws and fractions of the human condition that we can all relate to her journey – both the triumphs and the failures.
So I told Millie’s truth. The truth of many victims of sexual assault. The truth of countless readers who have reached out to me with letters confessing the deep, dark secrets they’ve kept locked away for decades – that they too survived a sexual assault, and that they reacted exactly as Millie did, only to feel tremendous shame and anger about it for the rest of their lives. Until…until…they read Millie’s story, and realized they were not alone.
In the real world, more than 200,000 women are sexually assaulted each year in our country. That’s one every two minutes, or thirty every hour, or 720 a day! And one of those has likely been you or someone you love. Maybe even your mother, your daughter, or your wife. Or your son.
Disturbingly, one in six boys and one in three girls will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18.
Approximately 2/3 of these assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, which makes it a lot harder for victims to come forward. In most cases, there are real relationships tied into the mess (whether directly or along the perimeter) and victims feel as if there’s no easy answer for anyone involved.
Nearly half of the victims are under the age of 18. As a mother, that makes me shiver. Millie was 17 at the time of her assault. If the same situation had happened to her later in life, would she have reacted differently? I think so. And as much as I wanted her to do something other than what she did in the book, that was exactly what Millie would have done at that point in her life. As much as we hate to see it, it really is her truth. Sadly, it’s also the truth of countless unknown victims around us right here, right now. And that’s why I encourage mothers and daughters to read and discuss Millie’s story.
Maybe the fact that victims often know their attackers and that victims are often very young at the time of the event factors into the fact that 54% of sexual assaults are never reported to police. Victims struggle with shame, guilt, and fear, even though all rational thought tells us it’s not their fault. But they also worry that even if they do report the assault, they will not be protected. Justice will not come easy for them, and that is the other sad truth.
In fact, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) breaks it down for us. I encourage you to take a mental snapshot of these shocking statistics and then visit their website to learn what you can do to make things better today. For Millie. For your loved ones. For yourself.
Out of every 100 Rapes
- Only 46 get reported to police.
- Only 12 of those lead to an arrest.
- Only 9 of those ever get prosecuted.
- Only 5 of those lead to a felony conviction.
- Only 3 out of every 100 rapists will ever spend a single day in prison.
- The other 97 walk free.