Silence is anything but golden in the heavily stigmatized and emotionally fraught instance of sexual violence, whose victims often do not have the resources or the language needed to identify or report the abuse. YA author Erin E. Moulton (Chasing the Milky Way; Keepers of the Labyrinth) seeks to break that silence with Things We Haven’t Said: Sexual Violence Survivors Speak Out, an anthology illuminating the personal stories of survivors of sexual abuse. Released this week by Zest Books, the compendium aims to give voice—and hope—to children and young adults who have experienced or are experiencing similar abuse.
Moulton, who has worked in public libraries in several New England states and is now a librarian in Derry, N.H., said that the seeds of the book began germinating in her mind after she witnessed an incident six years ago, during a library summer reading program for teens.
“We’d split up into small groups to brainstorm plot ideas for a summer movie,” Moulton recalled. “From across the room, I heard the word ‘rape,’ followed by laughter. I assumed there had been some sort of a rape joke and was on my way over to deal with it when a new girl said, ‘Hey, some of us have bad memories.’ The laughter immediately stopped, and I redirected the conversation, but felt as though I wasn’t well equipped to handle the situation. After the program ended, the girl’s response stuck with me. I wondered if she had been raped, and thought about how uncomfortable it must have made her to have memories of it stirred up at the library. I never found out.”
That episode shot to the forefront of Moulton’s memory some months later, while she was “weeding nonfiction and got to the 300s” at her library. “I noticed there were several works on the subject of sexual violence for adults, but far fewer for teens,” she noted. “And so I started to think about what a good resource would look like.” And she soon resolved to create one.
After landing a contract with Zest, negotiated by her agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette at the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, she faced the challenge of finding sexual abuse survivors willing to share their stories. She spread word of the book through social media and reached out to two relevant organizations: the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) and the Voices and Faces Project (these two groups will share the net proceeds from Things We Haven’t Said).
Though she was gratified by the response, Moulton sent out further submission calls online until, she noted, “we had a well-rounded collection. It was important to me that we have a variety of voices and represent a range of backgrounds and experiences, to enrich the book.” In the end, she whittled down the number of entries to 25 written by individuals who experienced sexual violence between the ages of four and 19, including three male abuse survivors and several LGBTQ survivors.
Featuring a foreword by therapist and author Sharon Lamb, Things We Haven’t Said includes, for each contributor, a piece of her or his creative writing, a q&a with Moulton, and a biographical profile. “I find that creative writing engages the reader, especially a teen reader, in a different way than informational text does,” said the author. What surprised her most about the creative material submitted was “the incredible variety,” she added. “Everyone seemed to find a form that really worked for them. I also was impressed by how much could be conveyed with such brevity.”
A Call for Communication and Action
The q&a sections explore questions about recovery, coping methods, therapy, dealing with social situations, and abuse warning signals. But the statistics underscore—horrifyingly—the high hurdles kids face in dealing with sexual abuse.
In 2015, Moulton reported, an article published in the academic journal Child Maltreatment stated that parents of victims constituted 78% of perpetrators of juvenile sexual violence. “So when you think of the lack of information in American classrooms and in the world about this subject, you can appreciate the problem,” she said. “If home life is often where the abuse takes place and school is where it is ignored, there is a huge power dynamic working against [children], and victims are on an island.”
Moulton hopes that Things We Haven’t Said provides young adults with the information—and the language—to identify and report sexual abuse. To that end, she included in the book a glossary of terms to guide kids and help them speak out without shame.
“There is so much weighted against victims of sexual abuse, including the fear of reprisal, being taken from their homes and put in the [foster care] system—and even knowing what reporting abuse even means,” Moulton noted. “I want this book to help them learn the right language, identify what is happening, and know how to find help. We say ‘information is power’ for a very good reason. And I want this book to be healing for survivors, as well as an education for non-survivors—and I hope that it is the start of a larger conversation about what we share with teens in our schools and classrooms.”
Hallie Warshaw, publisher and creative director of Zest, designed the interior of Things We Haven’t Heard and worked with Moulton and editor Jeff Campbell to pull together the editorial content. “I am extremely proud to be publishing this book, because it brings to light and into the forefront a subject that has largely been ignored until very recently, especially when sexual abuse happens to young people.” she observed.
Warshaw also addressed the urgent timeliness of the book, evidenced by the recent disclosures and testimony from past and current members of the women’s U.S. Olympic Gymnastics team. “The fact that it is an anthology of many people’s accounts is very important—that’s the #MeToo factor,” she said. “Just knowing that there are other survivors out there who have been through something similar may make all the difference for someone who is also a survivor and may be suffering in silence. The people who shared their stories in this book are brave and amazing. I am humbled to even be just a small part of their survival journey.”
Things We Haven’t Said: Sexual Violence Survivors Speak Out, edited by Erin E. Moulton. Zest Books, paper $16.99 Mar. ISBN 978-1-9421-8634-2