nosaferplace Book Club: Asking For It (Hayley Barker: Guest Post)

Asking For It
Author: Louise O'Neill
Publisher: Quercus
Read why Hayley chose Asking For It as her nosaferplace Book Club pick here:

They are all innocent until proven guilty. But not me.
In 2015, in Stanford, America, Brock Turner, a 20 year old student, who also happened to be a champion swimmer with Olympic potential, sexually assaulted an unconscious young woman behind some rubbish bins after a party.
At his trial, Turner’s victim spoke to him directly and her statement was circulated in the media afterwards. Her account of what happened is graphic and horrific. She describes the violent attack and the physical impact of it in detail, as well as the trauma of the aftermath—of having to deal with the continual implication from the police, the press and the people surrounding her that she, not he, was  the guilty party. She’d been at a party, she’d been drinking heavily, and Turner was a white, wealthy, successful young sports star.
Turner’s conviction meant a maximum of 14 years in prison.  When he was sentenced, however, the judge ordered him to just serve six months and a probation period. His rationale was that he feared a longer sentence would have a “severe impact” on Turner and his future career.
I read Asking for It at the same time that the victim’s statement was released, and it made it an even more harrowing read. O’Neill wrote the novel because of her concerns about countless other incidents of rape where the female victims were the ones vilified--perhaps because they had dressed in revealing clothes, or had a lot to drink, or taken drugs, or agreed to go back to a hotel room. In so many cases, historically and currently, there is a ‘boys will be boys’ attitude towards perpetrators of date rape, especially if they also happen to be sport stars.  Maybe they got a bit carried away, but they haven’t done anything really wrong. It’s as much as the girl’s fault--for leading them on, for putting herself in a dangerous position, for saying no far too late. Let’s be honest, she was asking for it.
O’ Neill sets the novel in a small fictional town in her native Ireland. Her central character is a teenage girl: Emma O’Donavon.  Emma is beautiful, superficial and, a lot of the time, highly dislikeable and unpleasant. At a house party, she becomes the victim of a brutal gang rape by several members of the successful local football team. Afterwards, Emma is widely vilified, while her attackers continue to be celebrated as heroes.
Jeanette Winterson said of O’Neill that she writes with a “scalpel,” and she does. She never shies away from tackling her concerns head on, and in this novel she confronts us with the uncomfortable truth that we live in a society that often exonerates sexual assault and concentrates instead on teaching females how not to get raped: how to avoid putting themselves in vulnerable situations, and where women who do not comply with our traditional concept of what it is to be a victim are shamed and blamed.

I’m sorry (not sorry) that I haven’t picked a gentler story, or a more comfortable read, but I think this is such an important book -not just for young adults, but for everyone, young and old, man and woman. I didn’t enjoy reading Asking for It. In fact, it made me feel physically sick, but I don’t think I will ever forget reading it. I hope you find it as brave and brilliant and vital as I do.

1 comment

  1. I haven't had a chance to read this yet, but I will. The Stanford case really got to me when it happened; I still get furious about it now. I can rant about it for hours (and I have done).
    Amy xx