MassResistance and Moms for Liberty Call for Bans of Books Containing Sensitive Topics Like Sexual Assault and Incest

At the KUSD school board meeting on Tuesday, September 28, 2023, members of MassResistance and Moms for Liberty read passages from books that detailed sexual assaults and rapes of children. The short passages they read were difficult to hear. Books about the sexual assault of a child are upsetting. And they should be.

These groups used those passages to demand that KUSD remove books from school libraries that contain references to such sensitive subjects. And many of the titles they are challenging, they admit when they submit them that they haven't even read them. As you can see on these documents, they answer 'no' to question 5 for all but one of the books for which they've submitted challenges.

This is part of an ongoing attack on KUSD libraries and school board leaders, that up until this week was focused on books with LGBT content.

The district has begun to set up committees to review the books that have been challenged. You can learn more about that process here.

You can read more about there here and here.

WHY Would KUSD Have Books That Contain Scenes of Incest and Rape on School Library Shelves??!

According to the U.S. Dept. of Justice, the average age of a victim of incest is 8 years old.

It is estimated that there are at least 100,000 incest cases in the United States each year, although no effective reporting system exists and most cases may go unreported.

One in 9 girls and 1 in 20 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault.

Child protective services in the United States find evidence of or substantiate sexual-abuse claims every nine minutes.

The Need for Books that Help KUSD Students Who Have Been the Victims of Incest and Sexual Assault

There are students in the KUSD school district who have been the victims of incest and sexual assault, or who currently are experiencing sexual violence. It is believed to be one of the most underreported crimes in the United States.

Because these crimes are underreported, and involve family, children often deal with the impact of these sexual assaults on their own. One way for them to process their experience, understand that what is happening to them is not normal and not okay, understand they are not alone, and even gather the courage to report what is happening/did happened to them, is by reading carefully selected books about children who have had similar experiences. A citizen discussed the need for books on sensitive topics at the KUSD school board meeting on October 24, 2023.

Jeffrey Stumphorst teaches junior high in Naperville IL. He experienced firsthand the powerful impact of a book on this topic. One of his students, after reading a book about sexual assault, realized they were not the only child who has been assaulted and came to him to ask for help.

The right book at the right time can literally be life-changing.

Sonja Solter's book “When You Know What I Know” portrays a girl's personal experience of being molested by her uncle. The author said that having this type of book earlier might have helped her recognize, stop and report her own experience:

“Our discomfort with the fact that it exists as a horrible problem can spill out over onto survivors and their being able to speak out. That’s really what I’m hoping can be broken with these types of stories.”

Rupi Kaur is an award-winning author and survivor of child sexual assault by an uncle.

"Banning books about sexual assault is not going to stop sexual assault from happening. Conservatives are taking away tools that help students feel seen and that’s what breaks my heart."

MassResistance and Moms for Liberty chose to read passages from books about the sexual assault of children to continue their argument that KUSD schools aren't protecting children from content they feel is harmful.

But having these books available to children may help protect children who have, or who are currently, experiencing sexual violence and assault.

The passages MassResistance and Moms for Liberty chose to read from the books were upsetting and shocking. You can access video of the meeting here. The sexual assault of a child, in real life and in a book, is supposed to be upsetting and shocking.

While it is understandable that parents want to protect their own children from content they find upsetting, it is also true that some children in KUSD schools may need those books. Friends of a child who has been assaulted may also choose to read a book about assault in order to better understand how to support the survivor.

The Need for Books on Other Sensitive Topics

MassResistance and Moms for Liberty have been attacking KUSD school leadership, staff, and their fellow community members on social media over books with LGBT content. They tactics have included:

  • Social media attacks on school leaders and community members featuring pictures from LGBT books;
  • Celebrating a cyberattack against KUSD social media, which they claim was because of books they oppose;
  • Calling for the firing and even arrest of school staff over books they object to which contain LGBT content;
  • Distributing leaflets in the community attacking the president of the KUSD school board, featuring pictures from books with LGBT content;
  • False claims that there is pornography in schools;
  • Filing a police report against 2 individuals in the community then falsely claiming on social media and at a KUSD school board meeting that the Kenosha County Democratic Party and Forward Kenosha were issuing the threats.

You can read why these books are important, here.

Studies Show Reading Books on Sensitive Topics Benefits Children

Lost in the political battles over “educationally suitable” books is what actually happens when young people read them.

One side assumes students reading certain books will become traumatized, radicalized, or morally perverted, while the other argues for free speech and democracy.

A two year study of 300 teens who read difficult books found the students, most of whom reported previously reading little or nothing, started reading like crazy—in and out of school—and their reading achievement improved.

Whether reading difficult books would improve reading skills was the initial hypothesis behind the study, it became the least interesting outcome.

Students who participated in the reading study experienced notable behavioral changes as well, changes noticed by their teachers, parents and peers.

Reading engaging narratives about characters with complicated lives helped them become more empathetic, less judgmental, more likely to seek multiple viewpoints, morally stronger, and happier. Yes, happier.

The students reported having improved self-control, and felt they had built more and stronger friendships and family relationships.

Isn't that what we want for kids?

In a polarized society, these teens’ embrace of different perspectives surely seems like a plus.

But there are bigger, more immediate issues facing US teens, among whom anxiety disorders are prevalent. Teens are lonelier than any other age group. In 2019, over a third reported persistent hopelessness or sadness. About one in six young adults say they made a suicide plan in the past year—over 40% higher than ten years ago.

Over 20% report being bullied. By 12th grade, over 60% have abused alcohol. These problems are astronomically higher for gay, lesbian, or bisexual students. Black students reporting attempted suicide rose 50% in 2019. Asked how they feel while in school, three quarters of the words teens choose are negative, the top being “tired,” “bored,” and “stressed.”

Reading and talking about personally meaningful books can provide a literal lifeline for teens. Somewhere in the arguments about whether books are “educationally suitable” we’ve lost the thread of why we want students to read in the first place, what they, and we, stand to gain in the process, and what’s at stake.

MassResistance, Moms for Liberty, the Republican Party of Kenosha County: Claims of 'Pornography'

Merriam-Webster's definition of pornography is material that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement.

One of the leaders of MassResistance at Tuesday's school board meeting read this definition of pornography, the key word of which is 'intent.' Library books that deal with sexual violence against children are not written to illicit sexual excitement. Books that deal with helping a child understand their gender identity, including their questions about sexuality, are not intended to cause sexual excitement.

If those topics are causing sexual excitement to the members of MassResistance, Moms for Liberty or the Republican Party of Kenosha County, that is very disturbing.

These groups, whether intentionally or mistakenly, label any content that deals with gender, sexuality and now, even incest and sexual assault, as 'pornography' and demand to have the schools remove them, ignoring the intent behind the writing as well as the fact that there are children in the school district who want and need those books and feel their discomfort with the subject matter overrides the rights of parents who support having that content available.

Public Schools Balance Conflicting Interests, Needs and Concerns

School librarians have to balance the conflicting interests of providing books to children who may need them due to their personal trauma, books to help children better understand and accept themselves, while also protecting children from content like sexual assault that might be upsetting and which their parents don't want them to read.

Balancing those conflicting needs is not an easy task.

KUSD Provides Ways for Parent to Opt-Out of Books To Which They Object

Like all school districts, KUSD provides avenues for parents to shield their children from content they believe would be upsetting to their child or from content that does not reflect a family's personal values. You can find that process here. KUSD also provides a way for parents to be notified via email every time their child checks out a book. You can find that process here.

Help is available

If you know or suspect a child is being abused, help is available. Contact the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

KUSD libraries belong to all students, including children who want and need books about sensitive topics.

Parents and community members at recent school board meetings have expressed their frustrations with national groups like MassResistance and Moms for Liberty who believe the public schools should express only their values. You can hear some of them speak here, here and here.