Flinch Not: Digging Deep to Research a Tough Subject by Ashley Warren @survivorsdawn #thewriterslife

 
Flinch Not: Digging Deep to Research a Tough Subject
By Ashley Warren
On a sunny day in early 2010, I sat in my parked car, late for an appointment, stunned by an NPR story about sexual predators. I had no idea such criminals roamed freely on university campuses.
Since then, I’ve paid close attention to the issue. It never goes away, and by all accounts the crime is pervasive at every college. As I heard story after story, I began to wonder if I could write a novel about victims whose lives were brought together by a common assailant.
To write a credible story, I had much to learn. Readers demand plausibility and accurate details, and this was all fresh territory for me.
One of the first topics I explored was the rape kit exam, a four-hour procedure described by victims as a nightmare. Next, I read of the aftereffects of medication offered to victims to reduce the risk of STDs and unwanted pregnancies. To flesh out the story, I explored many minor subjects: the range of good LSAT scores, chastity pledges, low alcohol cocktails, and the charges filed against Roman Polanski in 1977.
To make the character of Lauren Le’s mother credible, I researched the patterns of Vietnamese immigration in the 1980s and 1990s. To describe one harrowing scene, I learned about the physical attributes of scalding burns.
My hours of exploration turned into days, and then the days stretched into weeks. I read books on the subject. Two of the best were We Believe You by Annie E. Clark and Andrea L. Pino, and Missoula by Jon Krakauer.
We Believe You related the first hand account of many different survivors—life before the attack, the attack itself, and the long painful road that followed. Their stories were heartbreaking but also inspiring. I came to see the survivors as heroes. Many of them went on to become patriots in the fight to create a safer world for future students.
As I dove deeper, I learned of the symptoms of victims: stress, guilt, shame, sleeping disorders, eating disorders, anger, depression, flashbacks, and feelings of powerlessness. I found this quote on the website of the Rape Treatment Center at UCLA:
"Afterwards, I was too ashamed and confused to tell anyone what had happened. I tried to forget about it. But, it was eating away at me. I withdrew from my friends. I couldn't concentrate. My grades fell. I started to drop classes. I had no self-confidence. Eventually I dropped out of college and returned home . . .”
It surprised me to learn that some victims become sexually promiscuous after their assault. Psychologists believe they do this in an attempt to take control of their feelings of abuse. In Survivors’ Dawn, I wove this behavioral pattern into Lauren’s character change arc.
As I dug deeper, I kept encountering the same chilling statistic: approximately one in five undergraduate women has been the victim of attempted or completed sexual violence during college. The source, I learned, was a 2012 study conducted by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention.
In his book Missoula, Krakauer references the clinical psychologist David Lisak several times. This quote is from Missoula:
What Lisak found was that students who commit rape on a college campus are pretty much like those rapists in prison. In both groups, many are serial rapists. On college campuses, repeat predators account for 9 out of every 10 rapes.
“‘It's quite well-known amongst college administrators that first-year students, freshman women, are particularly at risk for sexual assault,’ Lisak says. ‘The predators on campus know that women who are new to campus, they are younger, they're less experienced. They probably have less experience with alcohol, they want to be accepted. They will probably take more risks because they want to be accepted. So for all these reasons, the predators will look particularly for those women.’”
To prepare to write a hearing scene, I researched university processes for adjudicating complaints. The rules and procedures varied widely from school to school, so I felt comfortable designing my own. In the Survivors’ Dawn hearing, Colin Jordan is not allowed to question his accusers directly, but he can channel questions to them via the review board of faculty members.
To craft the climactic pivot in the story, I spent hours researching the legality of clandestine recordings of conversations. Different states have different rules. Some states allow such recordings with the consent of one party; others require the consent of both parties. I went back on forth on this issue, doubting my plot twist, but then I found a case where a serial rapist was convicted largely due to a phone conversation recorded by one of his victims.
Researching this novel was often heartbreaking, at times infuriating, and occasionally inspiring. When I started writing the first draft, I had an enormous cache of facts, data, and true stories. Although my first duty to the reader was to write an engaging story, I forced myself to stay within the confines of what really happens on college campuses.
Brooke Flanagan, Lauren Le, and Nikki Towers are fictitious characters, but when you read Survivors’ Dawn, you will walk with them—you will feel their fear, despair, anger, disgust, purpose, redemption, and hope.
Thank you for having me. Book bloggers make the world a better place!
About the Author
The unending accounts of sexual assault on college campuses compelled me to write Survivors’ Dawn.
My goal in writing the novel was NOT to focus on the act itself, but instead, to write of the victim’s journey, to tell a story about the strength, courage, and determination of survivors, to describe the difficulties they face in their pursuit of justice, and finally, to offer hope for a future where students can pursue their dreams without fear of being attacked.
As Lady Gaga’s “Til It Happens to You” implies, non-victims can never truly know how it feels to be assaulted, but we can try to empathize, and we can try to help. Awareness is key to reducing the incidence of sexual assault on campus. Please do your part by taking the It's On Us pledge and contributing to organizations that are fighting on the front lines.
Thank you to readers who give me encouragement. It means so much to me. Word of mouth is an incredible thing, so thank you also for telling your friends about Survivors' Dawn. 

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About the Book:
Title: SURVIVORS' DAWN
Author: Ashley Warren
Publisher: Chaparral Press LLC
Pages: 316
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Women’s Fiction / New Adult Fiction
BOOK BLURB:
A heroic story of three college women’s fight for justice
At first glance, Brooke Flanagan, Lauren Le, and Nikki Towers have little in common: a churchgoing virgin, a party girl, and a resident advisor. But they all have their own dreams, dreams that can be shattered in a single night.
When freshman Brooke Flanagan first arrives at the university, she’s excited to escape her sheltered life in a Southern town. Lauren Le, a scholarship student, likes to have a good time, but she never disappoints her hardworking, single mom. Nikki Towers always goes her own way. Confident, poised, and wealthy, Nikki’s biggest problem is what to do with her future.
Into these girls’ lives walks Colin Jordan. Colin is the son of a private equity titan, captain of his club basketball team, and a brilliant pre-law student. He is also a sexual predator.
Survivors’ Dawn relates a journey of heroes: the strength, courage, and determination of the victims as they fight to survive; the obstacles they face in their pursuit of justice; and finally, with its conclusion, hope for a future where students can pursue their dreams without fear of being attacked.
A contemporary novel, Survivor’s Dawn wrestles with issues of privilege, sexual assault, and the responsibility of academic institutions to protect their students.

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