(She Was) Asking For It


By – Shruti Vairagkar (LT Howden)

The Nirbhaya case, the recent People of the State of California vs. Brock Allen Turner case in US, and the new release Pink are few examples of sexual assault and rape from real and reel life. These have sparked conversation and debates in societies and communities all over the world on victim shaming and blaming, women objectification, rape culture, and the subject of consent especially in the last two cases.

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Louise O’Neill, an Irish writer explores these subjects in her book, Asking For It. Narrated in first person, we learn the inner workings of the mind of the protagonist, 18 year old Emma O’Donovan, an adolescent on the verge of adulthood living in the fictional town of Ballinatoom, Ireland. And it is not pretty at all. She is a cruel, mean, lying, back biting young adult underneath a veneer of sweet pretense. She advises her friend to keep quiet after she is raped, telling her “it’s easier that way”.

But, what goes around does come back around. Emma is gang raped that weekend with no memory of it the next morning. She is mercilessly dumped at her doorstep and it is from this moment her ordeal begins. She learns of what happened to her from social media, and over a period of time, she and her family are given the cold shoulder by the community.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part begins one week from ‘the incident’ culminating with it and takes the reader through the mundane activities of a school going girl and her friends – classes and tests, academic rivalry between friends, desire to look better than the other, seeking male attention; and the goings on in an alcohol filled party. There is no sympathy for her at all.

The second part of the book is one year from ‘the incident’. The reader learns of her severe depression, attempts of suicide, superficial support from her parents, and blamed by members of the community. The images of that night haunt her and she considers herself branded by them as, “I belong to those other boys, as surely as if they have stamped me with a cattle brand. They have seared their names into my heart”

The book raises many questions – why is it a person’s fault for being assaulted/raped; if a person is inebriated, is he/she asking for it; why a robust social structure is important; and of course, the role of social media in today’s life. It does not provide any answers but triggers these thoughts in the reader.

Although this is a Young Adult book, it ought to be read by every single person irrespective of age and gender. The writing is vivid, the imagery haunting, and the subject entirely relevant for all those living today. It is a book which will stay with all those who read it. It certainly has for me.