Book Thoughts: Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Speak” and Rape

I can no longer count the number of times I’ve read Laurie Halse Anderson‘s Speak. It’s easily one of the most abused books on my shelves – page corners folded to mark favorite parts, quotes and dialogues highlighted so they’re easier to find, yellowing paper, old book smell – I almost had it memorized but that still doesn’t stop me from re-reading it over and over and over again.

More than being one of the most beaten books, it’s also one of the most important ones I own.

book cover

It was Anderson’s protagonist that got me reading, Melinda Sordino, at first. She’s awkward, a misfit and she just wants to get out of high school alive. It was very easy for me to feel and relate to Melinda because her voice in the story was so clear and also at that time when I first read Speak I was sort of going through the same things she went through. Kids can be mean to their fellow youngsters, if you know what I mean.

Eventually, as I got older and started losing count of the number of re-reads I’ve given the book, I found that more than Melinda  it was Speak’s topic that pushed me to turn the pages. It was a sensitive topic, yes, but sadly it’s a part of all of our reality.


It’s sick. It’s a painful truth, a hard pill to swallow. But it happens even if we don’t want to talk about it. It happens more often than we’d like to imagine. All the reports we hear on TV about, that doesn’t even bring the real numbers up, no, not even by a quarter, and it angers me.

I come from a family composed mostly of women – three sisters then my mom – really, my dad is the only guy in our household. Growing up, our parents have greatly been protective of us; we’ve always been reminded that while there are still many good people out there, there’s also a number who carry bad intentions within their hearts and that we’re more at risk because we’re girls. Still, no matter how careful you are, bad things, or in my more normal verbal language, shit happens and happen it did.

A couple of years ago when she was a high school freshman, my youngest sister became a victim of attempted rape. Luckily, there were people passing by the place where the perp brought her and she was rescued. The pervert was caught but her paid bail and is now again free.

What I wouldn’t give to get my hands on him and make sure he won’t ever get another chance to do what he almost did to my sister.

My sister clammed up after that incident. She went through her days doing what she was supposed to but she became unnervingly quiet. It took months before things went back to normal, well, as normal as they could get anyway. Until now there would still be times when she’d be totally quiet.

The bruises, the cuts may heal but the psychological trauma lingers long after the last scabs have flaked off. For many rape victims, it takes a lifetime to deal with what happened to them.

Rape is a highly under-reported crime. According to estimates, for every 4 to 10 rapes, only 1 incidence is reported. This gross under-reporting is largely attributed to the victim’s feelings of shame and guilt, their fear of more injury and the belief that the legal system won’t be able to help them. Victims of rape can be of any age: they can be as young as 15 months old and as old as 82 but the highest incidence rate is in girls and women aged 16 to 24.

And here’s even more disturbing findings about rape. In the recently published United Nations quantitative study titled “Why Do Some Men Use Violence Against Women and How Can We Prevent It?” researchers found out the following: (1) that rape of an intimate partner (girlfriend, wife, common law wife) was more common that non-partner rape in most sites of the study; (2) rape perpetration started early in life: (3) rape was most commonly motivated by a sense of sexual entitlement (with many of the respondents believing that they have the right to sex regardless of consent); and (4) that the majority of rape perpetrators did not experience any legal consequences. The study was conducted in 6 countries from the Asia and the Pacific region. It may not be a worldwide research but it’s the largest of its kind dealing with this particular subject, that is men and their use of violence, and that has to count.

Speak has been in print since 1999. It was relevant then and now, 14 years since its release, it remains to be, maybe even more.

Though its been challenged and banned repeatedly over its whole publication lifetime, it’s books like Speak, books that deal with subjects that are often too difficult to talk about that get to you. These things happen in real life, and these books could save you – tell you you’re not alone, that there are others out there who went through similar stuff and survived, encourage them to stand up and speak out.

There are other Melindas out there, more than we could ever imagine, more than we would ever know. No matter how much we deny it, rape exists and it victimazes millions of men and women out there. It’s plain wrong and it must be stopped.

Now here’s my call for action.

We’re always told to speak out, stand up for what we think is right, and while those are noble and worthy work, we seem to be forgetting something. We’re putting too much emphasis on speaking out but not enough on listening. Let’s all be listeners and speakers; be ears and mouthpieces. Balance things out, I think that’s what we need. We’ll never know when we’ll be helping someone who so desperately needs to be heard.

You’ll never know, it could also work the other way around.

Here are some resources:

Philippine Commission on Women

Women’s Crisis Center Directory

United Nations Development Fund for Women – Philippines