Laurie Halse Anderson reaches back into her parents’s past, in part to convey how people repress all kinds of traumas, not only sexual ones. She tells of her father, who had horrific experiences as a soldier assigned to Dachau at the end of the Second World War. Amidst the horror of the countless bodies he and his comrades found, one day he was able to help a woman give birth as she was walking along the road outside. The experiences weighed so heavily on him that he did not tell her about them until decades later.
Then they sent him to Dachau.
Not just him, of course, his whole unit,
and not just to Dachau, but to all the camps,
because the War was over,
But not really.
Daddy didn’t talk to me for forty years
about what he saw, what he heard, smelled,
and what he did about it.
Using a personal experience, Anderson helps the reader think about the problem of faculty who sexually harass students. She recounts experiences from her college years, when she was studying linguistics and planning to be a translator. One of the incidents she presents is of sexual harassment that did not develop into sexual assault but that influenced her to change her course of study. When she went to a meeting with a professor in his office to discuss her course of study, he abruptly suggested a sexual relationship based on their association in a past life.
the department head said we had been lovers
we’d been Aztecs, had sex in the jungle,
he said that we were cosmic soul mates
and needed to have sex again, unite our bodies—
I walked out.
One point that Anderson raises is that there is a vast amount of misinformation in circulation about definitions of sexual assault, including rape, especially in regard to what constitutes consent. The idea of “stranger danger” persists among young people. Anderson notes that in her frequent speaking engagements about Speak , an audience member regularly questions the application of rape to what happened to the character of...
(The entire section is 538 words.)