While on Facebook recently a question came up - in books with a primary part of the plotline abuse, domestic or sexual violence is it necessary to start with the gory details?
On another thread a rather harsh discussion took place regarding rape in a 'erotic' novel. The quotation marks around erotic are deliberate - and pertinent to a recent change on Smashwords as recounted on their blog. Because of the increasing tendency of sexual violence in novels, Smashwords - notoriously intent on being open to almost anything - felt it necessary to define what many vendors consider acceptable or not.
Especially 'non-consensual' sex where consent is questionable aka dubcon - dubious concent. By law when the victim says no or is incapable of answering. Unfortunately, this is honored more in the breach than the observance in courtrooms because of the notion of rape fantasies. "She wanted it, she just couldn't admit it."
Given that October is Domestic Violence month it seemed like a good time to talk about it.
First and foremost, there is nothing about rape that's a fantasy and the reality is not a bit romantic. It's brutal and cruel. Even victims who are incapacitated by drink or drugs know they have been violated. Conscious victims suffer bruising and internal tearing. Someone who commits rape has a psychological problem that cannot be cured. There's no way to soften it or make it 'right'. It's not.
An editor at my mid-level took one of my stories and 'improved' it by adding a scene that - if it hadn't been a paranormal - would have met the legal definition of rape. When the publisher approved 'rape fantasies' written by both women and men, I left. That publisher is no longer in business. And thanks to that experience and the preponderance of bad behavior on the part of what some call alpha males, I stopped writing erotic romance.
As a writer, and a survivor/thriver, I understand those who want to write about domestic violence. It's cathartic. The urge to shine a light on the darkness, to expose the ugliness, is strong.
In a strange way, though, it's become a romance writers 'trope' - like the Julia Roberts movie 'Sleeping with the Enemy' - where the battered victim flees/escapes and finds love.
However, the writer may not be doing a service to their readers by starting their book with it, at least not without a 'trigger warning' - because it may make them relive their trauma.
It also doesn't address how or why they became part of that relationship or the long-term effects of having survived. All of that is important background. As in Sleeping with the Enemy, many abusers can be at least moderately good-looking and even charming, if overprotective. That over-protectiveness can seem loving and reassuring, like Prince Charming ready to defend his maid. On the opposite side there are some romance novels where the 'alpha male' is dismissive, unreachable, until the woman gives up on him, and then he's interested again. Both are classic manipulative behavior, but many women mistakenly buy into it - he's just misunderstood and if she just loves him enough, he'll come around. Or he loves her so much he can't bear to share her. And a lot of writers sell those ideas. He can be redeemed, saved. There is no evidence to support that and it's a dangerous concept.
The truth is this - rape is horribly destructive to the victim, taking away any and all sense of safety. Domestic violence is just as damaging because it's committed by someone who supposedly 'loves' his victim. That possessiveness, though, doesn't go away. Leaving is the most dangerous time for a woman. She has a one in three chance of being killed by her abuser. In one case that I know of, her ex waited for years, broke into her home, then killed her and her new husband.
Rape for titillation is allowed by few vendors.
If you're going to use either in a story - don't romanticize it and do include a 'trigger warning' in your description. You might lose some readers, but you won't traumatize them again by catching them unprepared. If they choose to continue, that is their choice.