This column discusses sexual assault. Please refer to the end of the article for on- and off-campus resources.
Most college students today aren’t strangers to the topics of sexual assault and misconduct.
Maybe you are personally acquainted with people dealing with such trauma, or maybe you read the anonymous opinion pieces The Hoya published last year highlighting the voices of survivors. Maybe you are among the 31.6% of women and 11.6% of men who filled out Georgetown University’s 2019 climate survey and reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact at some point in college.
Whatever your experience, the subject is not one we can shy away from, and the novel “Wrecked” by Maria Padian certainly does not try to, as it examines the effects of rape on a college campus.
The story unfolds through the perspectives of two narrators, who are neither the survivor nor alleged perpetrator, but rather bystanders, offering a surprisingly effective way to challenge how we understand cases of sexual assault.
Haley is a freshman soccer obsessive who’s been benched following her third concussion, while Richard is an often clueless romantic in his sophomore year left pining when cool senior Carrie breaks up with him.
After a party at a rowdy campus house, Haley’s shy roommate Jenny grows increasingly more distant; Richard’s housemate Jordan, meanwhile, returns bragging about his hookup with a freshman. Jenny then asks Carrie, who works as a volunteer for the school’s sexual assault response team, to confide in Haley that Jenny was raped at that party by Jordan and needs Haley’s support more than ever.
The story operates on two levels, with a romantic connection building between Haley and Richard even as they are pulled to opposite sides of the conflict between Jenny and Jordan.
Jenny, who maintains that she was far too drunk to consent to sex, asks Haley to be her adviser when she files a case with the university. On the other side of it, Richard is the only person Jordan told about the encounter, which he insists was consensual; in the hopes of preventing his housemate from being asked any questions in the investigation, Jordan ropes in a reluctant Richard to be his adviser.
As they navigate their feelings and other personal concerns, Haley and Richard are painted as flawed but relatable characters: Haley does not always feel terribly sympathetic toward Jenny, and Richard is at times ignorant and insensitive, but they grow in their understanding of sexual assault as bystanders over the course of “Wrecked,” and the romance that blossoms is natural and charming.
Rather than feeling tasteless amid such a serious topic, the love story between Haley and Richard represents them realistically as college students with more than one thing on their minds at any given time. Whereas Jenny’s life has been altered irreparably and Jordan’s constant focus is the case proceedings, the same is not true for those around them, even as Haley and Richard struggle with being good friends — and good people.
Interwoven between Haley’s and Richard’s narration are snippets of flashbacks from the party, contributing to the confusing jumble of information about that night. As the school investigates what happened, every aspect of Jenny’s story is continually placed under scrutiny, which becomes especially harrowing given her lack of sobriety that night.
I’ve experienced firsthand the effects alcohol can have on both consent and memory, so what I found truly surprising was the moment when I felt doubt creep in about Jenny’s story, as details are repeatedly inspected under a microscope and used against her. I wasn’t prepared to feel that way, and that moment exposed what a crucial story “Wrecked” presents.
This book tactfully demonstrates certain realities of sexual assault cases: how a survivor can be telling the truth even if they get some minor details wrong, especially if alcohol is involved; how difficult and dissatisfying university proceedings can be; how vital it is to rigorously teach college students — people of any age, really — what consent is and what it’s not.
By making the reader a bystander too, Padian is able to explore the ways we may fall short. Perhaps we have a tendency to victim-blame, to be frustrated with how the survivor’s trauma inconveniences our own lives, or to not really listen. This perspective, so familiar to many of us, realistically portrays the struggle to piece together an instance of sexual assault and the need to grow to better understand such situations.
Throughout “Wrecked,” we witness the toll this experience takes on Jenny’s life, throughout all the pressure, scrutiny and suspicion. Padian expertly depicts many of the difficulties survivors of sexual assault and misconduct face, all the while weaving a compelling story with well-developed characters.
As sexual assault remains a widespread yet stigmatized topic, “Wrecked” impressively provokes greater awareness and empathy — something we can all use a little more of.
Resources: On-campus confidential resources include Health Education Services (202-687-8949 or [email protected]) and Counseling and Psychiatric Services (202-687-6985). To report sexual misconduct, you can contact Georgetown’s interim Title IX coordinator at 202-687-9183 or file an online report. Emergency contraception is available at the CVS located at 1403 Wisconsin Ave NW and through H*yas for Choice. For more resources and information, visit tinyurl.com/GUselfcare.
Catriona Kendall is a graduate of the School of Foreign Service. She formerly served as managing editor at The Hoya. This is the final installment of Managing Reads.