Why I Wrote Work Boots and Tees

This is the author’s note included at the end of my novel Work Boots and Tees, which will release Thursday from Harmony Ink Press. I’m sharing the author’s note here as well because some people won’t read the book, and because I think it’s important.

Many people have questioned my choice as the author to have Jim Frankel serve only one month in juvenile detention for raping Chastaine and Maryellen. They feel that he should have had more severe consequences.

I agree. However, what we want as human beings and what the legal system does are sometimes two vastly different things. Research I did into the legal system here in Massachusetts, and discussions with people who had been through a similar situation from a legal standpoint, indicated that in real life, it’s likely that the cases against Jim would never even have seen a courtroom.

As established in the previous books in this series, neither Chastaine nor Maryellen tried to stop Jim. Both were afraid of him and let him do what he wanted because of that fear; however, from his perspective as a somewhat immature and ignorant teenage boy, the lack of “no” meant they were consenting to sex with him.

Because of that, because both girls were in relationships with Jim at the time of the incidents, and (unfortunately) because of Chastaine’s reputation, in real life, charges might not even have been filed against Jim. And if they had been, it’s very likely the case would have been dismissed or he would have been found not guilty.

Please note: As a human being and a sexual assault survivor, I am not stating that the legal system would be right in seeing it that way. I’m simply saying that, based on my research, that would have been the most likely outcome.

In my first draft of High Heels and Lipstick, the novel which details Chastaine’s struggles and the aftermath of her reporting Jim, that “most likely outcome” was what happened. However, as I said, I am a survivor myself, and as such I try to be sensitive to other survivors. The people I spoke with about this were adamant that Jim should see some punishment, whether or not it was realistic.

Although the Deep Secrets and Hope series is fiction, it is contemporary fiction. As such, I feel that I would be doing a disservice to my readers if I present an unrealistic scenario, especially with something as serious as this. On the other hand, I completely agreed with the survivors I spoke with.

My compromise was that Jim, when confronted with the reports by Chastaine and Maryellen, is horrified by what he’s done. Hearing it from the police is the first time he understands that the girls didn’t consent; the first time he realizes that “no means no” doesn’t work, that it should be “only yes means yes.” And because of his own history as a sexual abuse victim, when Jim comes to this realization, he wants to be punished for what he’s done, so he confesses to the police and pleads guilty in court.

Even with a guilty plea, in real life Jim would not be likely to receive as severe consequences as we might wish. On the other hand, since he did admit to what he’d done, he had to receive some consequences. Therefore, again based on research, in the books Jim serves one month in juvenile detention and is released on probation which will end when he turns eighteen. He is court-ordered to receive counseling.

On the non-legal side, he’s also kicked out of both his mother’s home and his father’s, and is sent to live with a relative he’s never met in another state. And he pays a heavy emotional price for what he’s done. Jim is sixteen, and he is a sexual abuse survivor himself. That does not excuse the things he’s done, but it is part of the explanation for them.

As a survivor, as a former teacher who has worked with several “Jims,” and as a parent and human being, I strongly believe in redemption and change. While we might believe that the legal system should have stronger consequences in cases like this, and while some readers will say that since it’s fiction I should have warped reality to give them the outcome they want (I actually had one person tell me Jim should be executed!), as an author I try to give hope and encouragement to all of my readers.

I want survivors to know that they will be heard, and that there will be consequences for those who have hurt them, but I also want the “lost boys” like Jim, the ones who have been victimized and in turn have victimized others out of their own pain and anger, to know that the lost can always be found.