5 Popular Books With Disturbing Romanticization of Sexual Assault

Sexual Assault is a difficult, but important topic to discuss. Read on to discover the popular books that are inappropriately romanticized.

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Three books: haunting adeline, credence and tears of tess. Abstract images and the sexual assault awareness, blue and purple, ribbon around them.

Trigger Warning: The mention of sexual assault, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, physical abuse, rape, and sexual intimidation may be triggering for some readers. Please exercise personal care when reading.

Fantasy and romance novels are our ticket to a different world. It is what makes books exciting. Whether we pick them up to escape from reality or experience fictional characters’ emotional journeys, these books can be a lot of fun. However, there’s a fine line between exploring dark themes in a thoughtful way and romanticizing harmful behaviors. As authors, there’s a responsibility to address sensitive topics with care, ensuring that themes of sexual assault, harassment, and non-consensual actions are treated with the gravity they deserve.

Some books cross the line, turning what should be a meaningful exploration of complex themes into something that’s just plain wrong. I’m not saying all dark romance is bad; it can be edgy and explore themes in a way that simple romances aren’t able to, making some thoughtful conversations of the blurred lines. However, when it romanticizes abusive behavior, that’s where some problems emerge.

Haunting Adeline – H.D. Carlton

Haunting Adeline by H.D. Carlton. A skill, webs, and roses around the title.

It’s expected that themes of obsession and blurred moral lines will surface in dark romance. However, Haunting Adeline takes this to a level that could be deeply disturbing to some readers. The book’s leading lady, Adeline, is stalked, sexually assaulted, and terrorized by Zade, a vigilante hero who’s supposed to be the love interest. He saves trafficked women by day and scares the living daylights out of Adeline by night. The book portrays this behavior as part of a complex love story. But, when a character is subjected to severe abuse, and yet the focus remains on romanticizing the aggressor, it sends a potentially harmful message that everything that is happening in the story is okay.

Tears of Tess – Pepper Winters

Tears of Tess by Pepper Winters. A women in a sweater and high stockings on the cover

Tears of Tess explores the story of a young woman who is kidnapped and trafficked, then subjected to sexual violence by her captor, Q. The narrative’s attempt to transform this traumatic experience into a story of self-discovery can be problematic. While dark romance is meant to be intense, portraying sexual assault as a backdrop for character growth vacation, it can trivialize the gravity of such a topic.

Paper Princess – Erin Watt

Paper Princess by Erin Watt. A painted crown on the cover.

I surely didn’t remember this book until a booktuber reminded me of the wacky Twilight Zone that is this book. This novel would be fine if it were a dark romance, but it’s YA fiction, which makes it a little concerning. Paper Princess begins like a typical young adult romance but quickly shifts into territory that raises brows. The book features scenes where the main character, Ella, is harassed, drugged, and coerced into situations where she cannot give consent. In a young adult context, these themes can be particularly unsettling, as they may send mixed messages to a younger audience about acceptable behavior. When a book, aimed at teens, blurs the lines between harassment and romance, it’s crucial to question its underlying messages.

Credence – Penelope Douglas

Credence by Penelope Douglas. A forest and its reflection.

In Credence, the premise of an orphaned girl living with her adopted uncle and cousins already sets the stage for juicy drama. However, the book focuses on sexualized scenes that often involve harassment and assault without really addressing how messed up it all really is. The romanticization of toxic relationships can be uncomfortable. Especially when characters who explicitly say “no” are manipulated into compliance and gaslit to believe that what they are experiencing is romance.

Love to Fear You – Kati McRae

Love to Fear You by Kati McRae. A shirtless boy looking up seductively.

Love to Fear You, a dark mafia bully romance, is set in an elite boarding school where violence and abuse are common. The story is about the male lead who uses physical threats and sexual aggression to make the female protagonist his. He harasses her, assaults her, and so on. This book is essentially Haunting Adeline, but if it were seniors in high school and a made-up foreign country.

Romanticizing For The Plot

It’s important to remember that dark romance isn’t inherently bad. These stories can explore complex emotions and challenging situations in a way that resonates with readers. Some individuals even heal from reading these stories, and there is no shame in that. However, when narratives romanticize abuse or trivialize serious topics like sexual assault and harassment, they risk sending harmful messages, especially when the characters are blaming themself or the perpetrator’s love interest, is justified and not seen as wrong. Authors have a responsibility to handle sensitive themes with care, ensuring that they don’t promote or glorify abusive behavior.

These narratives (that feel like they were hand-picked from a charades hat) didn’t just cross the line — they pole-vaulted over it. They are disturbing reads, just to be disturbing reads. Sexual assault is a very serious issue, and having these female protagonists blame themselves or twist the narrative is not the best message to show the world.

Want to read some books that are resourceful for sexual assault survivors? Click here!

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