Keep Me Posted!

Sign me up for the latest news from Penguin Teen, including new books, special offers, and promotions.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Empathy, Always, an essay by Brandy Colbert

SHARE

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and one of the books we’re using to start a conversation is Pointe, which follows high school ballerina Theo’s struggle to reconcile secrets of her past with her dreams for the future when her best friend comes home four years after his kidnapping. Today, author Brandy Colbert shares another story – this one her own – and an important message about empathy.

 

When I first started writing Pointe, I thought the book would primarily explore male sexual abuse, since the kidnapping aspect was inspired by the real life of Steven Stayner, who was abducted and abused for seven years in the 1970s. At the time I was writing, there weren’t a lot of books focused on that topic, although one in six men have experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18.

 

As I delved further into editing, I realized I’d have to write about the sexual abuse and exploitation of the main character, a girl named Theo. And that made me anxious. I didn’t know if I could do the topic justice from a first person point of view.

 

I’ve read and listened to a lot of survivor stories in my life, and I’ve felt empathy toward these survivors since I was a kid, in part because of Steven Stayner’s story that became a television movie. I don’t have personal experience with sexual abuse or assault, but while I was working on Pointe, I started thinking of times in my life that I’ve fended off unwelcome attention from men, most of them older and in more powerful positions than me. I thought about how helpless I felt, how angry that I was supposed to endure or even entertain those advances because I’m a woman (or many times still just a girl).

 

When I was a teenager, working part-time at a retail job, a new guy started at the store, and because we were both black in a predominantly white town and workplace, everyone assumed that when he expressed interest, I should immediately want to date him. He wasn’t my type physically, and I knew deep down that I didn’t want to go out with him, but I gave him my number anyway. He called and, unsurprisingly, there was no chemistry. Later, I found out he was older. As in, he was in his thirties.

 

“But he’s so nice!” everyone said.

 

“But you’ve been wanting a boyfriend, and he likes you!”

 

“But you hang out with a lot of older people who work here—what’s the difference?”

 

I was tired of the questions and tired of feeling bad for following my gut instinct, and finally, when someone asked why I wouldn’t just give him a chance, I practically shouted, “He’s thirty-four and I’m nineteen!” I didn’t get any more pressure, though it was upsetting that nobody would listen to what I wanted until I brought the age difference into it.

 

I’ve been fortunate to choose who I have sex with, but lots of people—both male and female—don’t get that opportunity, and that’s why Theo’s story was so important to me. I was old enough to consent to a relationship with an older man if I’d chosen to. She was not. But I didn’t owe that man or any of our co-workers anything, and Theo didn’t owe anyone anything just because she trusted the wrong person.

 

Some reviews criticize the way Theo behaved throughout the book, as if she deserved what happened to her because of a poor choice she made as a thirteen-year-old. I have to assume those people just aren’t at a place in their lives where they’ve developed empathy. Sexual abuse takes many different forms, but the most important thing we can do is have empathy for survivors—even if they don’t look like the people we’ve been conditioned to believe are the victims. Even if their situations are difficult to understand.

 

We should have empathy, always.

 

Learn more about Pointe.

 

Find more books to start the conversation with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#AuthorSpotlight

Our 10 Favorite Quotes from THE FAULT IN OUR STARS

As part of our #TurtlesAllTheWayCountdown to John Green’s new book Turtles All the Way Down (see what we did there?), each week we are highlighting one of our favorite John Green books. This week, it’s The Fault in Our Stars! We’re sharing ten of our favorite quotes from this gem. Vote for your favorite below, and don’t forget to join us … Continued
See More

Our 10 Favorite Quotes from AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES

As part of our #TurtlesAllTheWayCountdown to John Green’s new book Turtles All the Way Down (see what we did there?), each week we are highlighting one of our favorite John Green books. This week, it’s An Abundance of Katherines! We’re sharing ten of our favorite quotes from this gem. Vote for your favorite below, and don’t forget to … Continued
See More

ZODIAC Re-readers: This is your character and house guide! *SPOILERS AHEAD*

Thirteen Rising, the final book in Romina Russell’s Zodiac series, is almost here, and we’re getting you ready by giving you an in-depth look at the twelve houses of the Zodiac, including a reminder about each of the characters. Luckily, Romina was here to provide us with all of the info that you need to … Continued
See More

Quiz: Are You the Ultimate John Green Fan?

John Green’s newest novel comes out SO SOON which means his legions of fans are essentially out of their minds with excitement (check out some of the fans who JUST can’t wait.) Turtles All the Way Down hits shelves on October 10th which means now is the time to revisit all of the love you have for his earlier books. Think … Continued
See More

Our 10 Favorite Quotes from LOOKING FOR ALASKA

As part of our #TurtlesAllTheWayCountdown to John Green’s new book Turtles All the Way Down (see what we did there?), each week we are highlighting one of our favorite John Green books. This week, it’s Looking for Alaska, the book that started it all. We’re sharing ten of our favorite quotes from this timeless classic. Vote for … Continued
See More

What It’s Really Like Being Trans in America Today: A Conversation with FELIX YZ Author Lisa Bunker

Here at Penguin Teen, we know that reading is a great way to step into another person’s shoes, to understand someone else’s experience. But sometimes reading isn’t enough. We need to hear from the authors themselves, whether it be about their inspirations for their work or their experiences which lead them here. At Penguin Teen, … Continued
See More

Every Video Where John Green Talks About TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN

As you may or may not know, John Green is not only a bestselling author, but one part of the two-part YouTube channel Vlogbrothers (the other being his brother, Hank). John has been using his YouTube space to share news about his book bit by bit. We’ve rounded these up and created a timeline of videos from … Continued
See More

Something Wicked This Way Comes: The Rebirth of Noir in Young Adult Literature by Sherri L. Smith

Sherri L. Smith is the author of Pasadena, a page-turning noir mystery set against the backdrop of stylish clothes and beautiful mansions in California’s City of Roses. She wrote this amazing piece for Penguin Teen about the rebirth of noir in YA literature and its roots throughout history in books, movies, and TV. Read on for … Continued
See More

Our 10 Favorite Quotes from PAPER TOWNS

As part of our #TurtlesAllTheWayCountdown to John Green’s new book Turtles All the Way Down (see what we did there?), each week we are highlighting one of our favorite John Green books. This week, it’s Paper Towns! We’re sharing ten of our favorite quotes from this gem. Vote for your favorite below, and don’t forget to join us … Continued
See More

Kicking off the Turtles All The Way Countdown!

As you may know, Turtles All the Way Down, John Green’s new book, will be hitting shelves on October 10, 2017 (pre-order your copy here!). Naturally, new John Green novel on the horizon has got us feeling some type of way, and the nostalgia is real. In honor of the new book coming, we’re re-reading our … Continued
See More
BACK TO TOP

I can give you book recommendations.
Please enter your name and email address to begin chatting with me.



What is your date of birth?

START CHAT