We chatted with author Amy Hatvany about the familiar sexual assault narrative in her novel "It Happens All the Time"
There are a lot of exciting things happening this spring. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a time when consent, sexual violence, and supporting survivors of rape and sexual assault are at the forefront of conversation. So it’s fitting that popular fiction author Amy Hatvany’s newest book, It Happens All the Time, hit shelves earlier this month.
It Happens All the Time is a novel that centers around a drunken encounter between two close friends. With one kiss, everything changes between Amber and Tyler, and the aftermath is a painful examination of the meaning of consent. The book is told in the alternating points of view of both main characters, which highlights how rape culture affects the way both men and women think about issues involving gender, violence, and sexual relationships.
We sat down with Amy Hatvany to chat about her choice to write the book, how sexual assault has impacted her personally, and the public’s response to It Happens All the Time. Amy answered all of our questions with thoughtful candor and raised several important talking points to consider, especially during a month dedicated to raising awareness about sexual violence.
HelloGiggles: It Happens All the Time deals with sexual assault and the issue of consent. Why do you think this is such an important topic, and how is it particularly relevant to today’s culture?
Amy Hatvany: It’s such an important topic, and relevant, because our country is facing—and has faced for far too long—an epidemic of sexual assault. Yet the focus of the conversation still leans heavily toward how to deal with the aftermath of rape—how it should be less traumatic for a victim to report what happened to her (or him) to the police, that offenders should be subject to stricter sentencing—instead of concentrating on what we can do to prevent these assaults from happening in the first place. When there is discussion about prevention, it puts the emphasis on what girls and women should do to not become victims (don’t wear sexy clothes, don’t walk alone at night, etc.), and ignores what would have more impact: teaching our boys how to understand, internalize, and identify the meaning of consent.
HG: There are multiple conversations between different characters in your book about what constitutes consent, and their points of view differ wildly. Why do you think people, men and women alike, sometimes have difficulty understanding consent?
AH: I think we live in a country riddled with prevailing social attitudes that trivialize and normalize the existence of sexual abuse and assault, which is the definition of rape culture. Both men and women are conditioned to view women as commodities, and our media is saturated with recurrent themes of women “deserving” what they get when they are sexually assertive or confident, and that, when women say “no,” they really mean yes, or that they need a man to push them into saying yes, or just capitulating to whatever sexual activity he wants.
I also think boys, and men, in particular, have a difficult time understanding consent because it’s rare that anyone has had recurring, specific conversations with them about what consent is…and what it isn’t. We assume that if we teach boys what is right and wrong—and it should go without saying that rape is wrong—then we’ve done enough. It’s not enough. If it were, a woman wouldn’t be sexually assaulted every 2 minutes in the United States and more rapists would be in jail.
HG: Amber, the main character in It Happens All the Time, at first has difficulty defining what happened to her as rape. Why do you think some survivors struggle with this?
AH: I know for me, after being raped, I struggled because I liked the boy who raped me. I flirted with him, I wore a sexy dress that showed my cleavage and I wanted him to kiss me. After it happened, I felt so guilty and ashamed, thinking it might be my fault. I also thought, because he was older than me and I’d only had one other experience with sex, that maybe that what he did to me was how sex was supposed to be.
I believe that it has been so conditioned into most of us that it’s always the girl’s fault when she is raped that all survivors have a hard time coming to grips with the fact that they’ve been raped.
HG: In the Acknowledgments section of your book, you write openly about being a survivor of sexual assault. How has your own personal experience informed your writing about this subject?
AH: Though the plot of this story is 100 percent fictional, I drew a lot from my emotional experiences of being raped by someone I knew. I hope that it informed the writing with an authenticity, and that the reader might come away with a better understanding of the trauma victims face, and why we need to be doing a better job of teaching our children from a young age to understand personal boundaries, and as they age, help them become cognizant of how the media influences us in subliminal ways. And also, how important it is to reinforce the importance of getting a clear, verbal consent from a potential sexual partner—silence is not consent, crying or being physically frozen or fighting someone off is not consent.
HG: How has the book been received by the public so far?
AH: I’ve been lucky enough for it to have received so much positive response, both from reviewers and readers alike. There have been a few surprising responses, where readers—female readers, mind you—have blamed Amber for her “part in her rape,” and that a girl “can’t just whisper no, wait and then call it rape,” because that “isn’t fair to our boys.” I wish I could say comments like this surprise me, but instead, what it shows me is just how ingrained we are in rape culture, how uneducated and unaware so many people are about what constitutes sexual assault. It shows me just how far we have to go, and I hope that my book, even with these differing opinions, might start the kind of conversations we need to be having more of.
HG: Do you have any advice this month for survivors of sexual assault?
AH: I think my only advice would be to listen to what your gut and heart tell you to do. I can’t tell anyone whether they should report what happened to them or not, but I can say that looking back, I wish I had told someone, a trusted adult or friend, who could have pointed me in the direction of getting emotional help instead of carrying the burden of guilt and shame around for as long as I did. Talking about what happened to me has been a liberating, if often times painful, experience, and it has lifted so much of the unnecessary self-loathing I suffered through. There is help available, and learning to place the blame where it belongs—on the boy who raped me—is the best thing I’ve ever done.
Learn more about Sexual Assault Awareness Month and what you can do to prevent sexual violence here.