Commonly when we think of rape, it’s usually about some stranger jumping out of the bushes or some evil man stalking us as we walk through a dark parking garage to get to our cars. The victim is chosen at random and doesn’t know her rapist. It’s the basis for all the self defense classes women are encouraged to take. Overwhelming, we think of rape as something inflicted by the violent stranger. Additionally, rape is almost always constructed as a crime against women and if men are understood to be the victims of rape at all, it is only if the rapist is male. The truth of the matter is that the most common form of rape is not stranger related at all. In fact, rape can take on many forms and it’s these forms which step outside of popular imagination that many refuse to accept or even at times acknowledge constitute rape.
Recently, we have seen a lot of rape happening on the shows that we review. What they all have in common is an element of deception and that woman is the perpetrator. These two elements are enough for the violation to read as sex and quickly be swept aside. The victim is often portrayed to have no personal trauma related to the incident and if there is any antagonism between the rape victim and his rapist, it is usually due to entirely different issues; the rape is certainly never considered a reason for him to loathe her. In fact, a problem only seems to arise in this situations when a child is conceived as we have seen in Grimm and Once Upon A Time There is little to no discussion about the violation itself and instead the focus quickly to turns to the child
Nick on Grimm is a Portland city police detective and if anyone should be aware of the law and how it relates to consent, it should be this character. Nick consents to sex with who he believes to be his girlfriend Juliet and instead it’s actually Adalind, who has masked her identity using magic. Not only does Nick fail to acknowledge or even confirm that he is a rape victim, he is repeatedly shamed by his friends and Juliet. The entire sexual assault is framed as Nick having an unwitting affair - if anyone is portrayed as a victim of this rape it is Juliet - in fact, Nick being raped is probably the event that sets Juliet on her evil path. The rape of Nick is a crime against Juliet and part of her character’s development. The descriptors used help sanitise the incident, thus setting the stage for Nick to fall in love with and cohabit with his rapist. Adalind quickly moves from the woman who violated his person to the mother of his child as though these two identities are somehow mutually exclusive. Adalind’s motherhood quickly becomes the path the redemption train traverses and all bad acts are cast away with the afterbirth.
Once Upon a Time, like Grimm, chose to include a rape by deception. This time, the wicked witch of the east Zelena pretends to be Guinevere, the love interest of Robin Hood. When the deception is revealed it is cast as a wrong against Regina (the evil Queen) because it for a time impeded her chance at true love and a happy ending with Robin Hood. Zelena is imprisoned for her crimes but at no point is Robin’s violation even remotely considered to be at last partially an explicit reason for her punishment. All of Zelena’s bad acts are reviewed ad nauseum and not once is there a mention of the fact that along with the destruction she caused in Storybrooke that she has also become a rapist. Robin is angry but the reason for his anger is centered around the murder of Guinevere (though, admittedly, even this is depressingly underplayed) rather than the fact that he was deceived and raped repeatedly.
Robin Hood and Regina take custody of the baby because Zelena is evil (though, again, we have to stress her being a rapist is never raised as part of said evil). When they all end up in the underworld, Zelena’s redemption train begins. Regina starts by suggesting that Zelena can start making amends and choosing to do good instead of evil. It’s worth noting, again, that making amends in no way means accepting responsibility for raping Robin. The coup de grace comes when Regina and Zelena meet with Cora and learn that there was a time when they cared very deeply for each other. Zelena doesn’t need to perform any acts of contrition, she is simply forgiven by Regina who then informs Robin that he should hand over his daughter to Zelena because now, Zelena is a part of team good guy. Robin is reluctant but he does comply.
Let us stress this again, at no point was Zelena’s rape of Robin acknowledged and at no point was her addressing this part of her redemption
The very idea that someone can suddenly be labelled good and have their bad actions cast away as though no one was harmed is alarming. Watching as Robin was pressured into handing over his daughter to someone he has every reason to feel is dangerous is a problem. Robin may not love Zelena but the woman he does love cares for her and that is enough to grant forgiveness. Love is a beautiful thing and for that matter so is forgiveness but only Robin has the right and or ability to actually forgive and accept his rapist. Forcing him into doing so renders him the invisible and inconvenient victim; we see Zelena and Regina come to terms with each other but Regina doesn’t take one moment to consider the feelings of the man she loves towards his rapist. It is not a matter of Robin trusting Regina when she insists Zelena is good now, it is a matter of addressing he has been wronged, he has been hurt and Regina’s trust is not really relevant in that.
The 100 decided to forgo the deception angle when it came to its rape storyline. Ontari is an imposter to the title of Heda and for some reason, she takes a liking to Murphy. From the very beginning Murphy has been a complex character who at times has been cast as the villain. He is smart, capable and most cases will put his self interest above that of others. Murphy is essentially a prisoner Polis with Lexa dead and Clarke having disappeared. This means that Murphy must look out for himself and somehow try to survive. At his heart however Murphy is a realist and has the uncanny ability to read a situation as well as the motivations of others.
Ontari keeps Murphy in chains and threatens him with death if he tries to disobey. Ontari strips off her clothing and Murphy makes it clear that he cares about someone else. Ontari feeling the rush of her new power makes it clear that if he doesn’t submit to sex that she will have him killed. Murphy with a smirk on his face responds, “the things I do to survive”. Murphy’s response is clearly played for humor as though being forced into sex is funny because of course all men want sex all the time, when nothing could be further from the truth.
Akin to Robin and Nick, Murphy doesn’t struggle with the aftermath of being violated. The rape simply becomes something he did to survive and is quickly cast aside to deal with problems arising from ALIE. Ontari doesn’t need a redemption train because the rape is very much framed as a consensual act with the only consequence being that Murphy got to live. The smirk on his face is meant to convey that Murphy is not and will not be harmed by this act. The truth of the matter is that Murphy explicitly said no, and only consented on pain of death. If one cannot say no, then one cannot truly consent. The power imbalance between Ontari on its face alone makes consent impossible. Murphy’s rape is played for comedy, as so many things involving him are but there’s nothing remotely amusing about rape.
Other than a failure to acknowledge each incident of rape what is perhaps most galling is the fact that the victims seem to suffer from no ill effects. These storylines could have been written by some GOP asshole bent on convincing the world that rape isn’t serious or that victims somehow play a role in their own rape. None of this is to say that rape survivors don’t go on and lead happy and successful lives; however, sexual assault stays with its victims and can take years to recover from. These shows are depicting rape survivors falling in love with the person who assaulted them, writing off what happened to them as a joke and forgiving because someone else thinks they should. Rape is something that can stay with a survivor all the days of their life and I can say this confidently as a survivor myself.
While our societies’ rape culture means there is always a huge denial of every rape, as well as the severity, frequency and effects of rape, in this case I feel that at least part of the disconnect on the part of the writers of Grimm, The 100 and Once Upon a Time is the fact that the victims are male. Socially there’s a lot of guffawing and back clapping at the idea that a man has been raped by a woman. The pain is made invisible to instead promote the idea that even if the sex wasn’t exactly consensual that the male in question still scored - that he somehow benefitted from being targeted by a predator. It’s a combination of society’s understanding of power, sexual dynamics and gender. It’s a disgusting facet of hyper masculinity that male vulnerability and victimisation cannot be recognised when it occurs. Even men who report being assaulted by an adult woman when they were children don’t receive the sympathy that they deserve (and we too often see a gross “congratulating” of a young teenaged - or even younger - boy being assaulted by an older woman).
We also continue to have ridiculous ideas of what constitutes rape - especially when it comes to the centrality of consent. Rape is committed when you have sex with someone when they do not or cannot consent. It doesn’t require violence, it doesn’t require threat, it requires the violation of consent and, contrary to how so many people depict this, it’s not hard or complex to understand. Deception violates consent, deception prevents someone making an informed yes. Deception is rape.
It would be easy to dismiss these examples because they come from shows whose basis is the fantastical, but like all media depictions they are not harmless and they very much reflect real societal issues. You can find stories of men who have been raped by women saying how hard it is for them to be believed, let alone be taken seriously and, unlike their fictional counterparts, they don’t have the luxury of being magically immune to the aftermath. In the UK now there is a horrendous scandal of police officers who infiltrated activists groups and “had sex with” activists as part of their cover: completely deceiving these people, violating their consent and even having children with some of the women. None of these abusers are being held accountable for their rapes and, yes, our media is partially responsible for this
Whether it’s the magically coercive succubus, the mind bending love potion, the deceptive illusion or simply the ruler forcing their prisoner to obey, so long as these rapes are depicted as sex, as non-traumatic, as not being serious, as harmless or even humorous (or, more horrific, as the foundation for a romantic relationship) each depiction continues to champion an ignorant and regressive view of rape. And it is a view that has real world consequences and real world victims.