One of my college assignments was to argue one side of a difficult social issue. FOR or AGAINST. I was instructed to show no support for the other side, regardless of my personal beliefs and opinions. This was a tough challenge, made tougher by the issue I chose and one I think about a lot: the appropriate form of punishment for pre-teen and teenage killers. I personally know someone whose adult brother was killed by a teen.
The research into the issue was sickening. Most of us know about the horrific 1993 slaying in England of two-year-old Jamie Bulger by 2 ten-year-old boys, and we all know about Columbine in 1999. In 1991 seventeen-year-old Kevin Nigel Stanford raped and stabbed a woman repeatedly during a robbery, then shot her in the face and back of the head so she couldn't testify against him.
Some kids are psychotic. Evil. Some commit worse crimes than adults and receive lighter punishment. Their age protects them. Society seems to protect children more than ever before.
This post, however, is not about my essay (which can be found on Scribd for anyone who wants to read it), but about using children in our crime novels. Even with all the atrocious school shootings and other crimes we read about committed by minors, as a writer, I'm careful about using children in my novels, especially as the victim. I don't enjoy reading about child abuse in works of fiction, but it's a sad fact that it happens and, if it's integral to the story, I'll read it. It likely won't prevent me from reading other works by the author.
It's shocking to read true crime of juveniles who assault or murder someone with a deadly weapon, and also of child victims abused by people in positions of trust. In works of fiction, I often wonder if and when it is acceptable to use children in crime, either as the villain or the victim.
Recently, I read a crime fiction novel about child abuse and kidnapping and, while it was difficult to stomach, it touched on some very important points, areas the general public might not always understand, such as why the kidnapped and abused child might not try to escape.
In my first book, Madness and Murder, my opening scene handles the sentencing for a child murderer. I worried when I wrote it, especially the later chapters about the atrocities inflicted on the child. I felt sick about those and worried how readers would react. The scenes were an important part of the story and they belonged, however, justifying it didn't make it easier to write a child murder into the novel.
Crime against anyone is unacceptable. Crime against women and children seems worse due to the vulnerabilities of both, yet both women and children can be very cruel and equally as capable of committing heinous crimes themselves. Readers: how do you feel about reading crime fiction books using children either as the villain or the victim? Does it prevent you from picking up other works by the author?
Writers: Do you worry about readers reactions to your crime stories where children are involved in the crime, especially if the child is the victim? Do you have a hard time reading it as well as writing it?