lizzieladie: (Default)
lizzieladie ([personal profile] lizzieladie) wrote2010-06-03 12:32 am
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Rape in Veronica Mars

So I have some issues with the depiction of rape in Veronica Mars.

Before I get to the meta on Veronica Mars, I'd like to clarify some of my beliefs about rape that are relevant to my analysis of the show.

1.) Rape is any sex that occurs without consent from the victim, regardless of whether or not the victim was drugged, knew the perpetrator, fought back, said no more than once, had previously consented to sex with the perpetrator, ect.

2.) Everyone has the right to withdraw consent at any point in a sexual encounter. This does not render previously agreed upon sexual acts rape, but just because you started does not give you a right to finish.

3.) People who are under the influence of mind-altering substances, including alcohol, are not capable of providing consent.

4.) In cases where a victim simply says no, and there is no physical struggle or coercion through the use of drugs, it is very difficult to prosecute rape cases because it is literally the victims' word against the perpetrator's and that's shaky legal territory to be in. You can prove that sex occurred or did not occur given sufficient swiftness of testing, but you have to take the word of the people of involved as to whether or not consent was obtained.

5.) The lack of physical evidence does pose something of a moral problem when attempting to prosecute rape.

6.) The current cultural phenomena of doing everything our power to discredit the victim's testimony is absolutely not an appropriate response to this moral problem. Investigators and juries need to do the best job they can of setting aside their prejudices and making an objective determination of who is lying, but since no one can ever be completely objective and lie detectors do not have very good reliability, this is difficult to get right.

7.) Even given this, instances of actual rape are far, far more common than instances of falsely accused rape, despite the fact that reverse seems to be true in the media depictions of rape.

8.) Prosecuting rape is also made difficult because some victims are ashamed, traumatized, scared of negative treatment, and hesitant to name their attackers. Therefore many do not come forward immediately. Thus, some cases where physical evidence could be produced are not investigated in time to obtain that evidence, and other cases are not prosecuted at all.

9.) We live in a culture that encourages rape and shames victims. Most sexual education does not adequately address consent and there are many rapists who believe that their behavior is normal and/or not actually rape.

10.) The stereotype of a rapist as a male aggressor who jumps out of the bushes and attacks a woman who does not know him is widely perceived to be the most common form of rape, making it difficult to get people to understand that rapists most often know their victims, and difficult to prosecute rape that occurs when they do.

11.) Educating rapists, or the children who are going to become rapists in the future, about consent, the realities of the circumstances in which most rape occurs, and sexism are all essential to decreasing the number of rapes that will occur in the future.

Based on these beliefs I have two sets of issues with the depiction of rape on Veronica Mars - namely having a serial rapist on a college campus (eventually revealed to be a fairly pyschopathic Mercer Hayes) shave the heads of his victims after he attacks them with the aid of date rape drugs. The first is a moral objection, the second is an assessment that this technique was actually one of the less interesting methods that could have been used to look at rape in the Veronica Mars universe.

My issues with the arc stem from the difficulties inherent in substituting rape for murder in the mystery plot. The first issue is that rape is simply a more prevalent crime than murder. One in five women, and one in four college women have been raped. According to crime statistics published by the FBI for 2006 there were 16,065 murders and 83,161 reported rapes in that year. Furthermore, as discussed above, a major cause of rape seems to be that some people think it is normal behavior, or that what they are doing does not constitute rape.

The culture is absolutely agreed that both murder and rape are wrong, but it's much harder to prove that someone didn't actually die than that someone didn't consent to sex. I can't speak to the attitudes of actual law enforcement officials investigating murders, but the general assumption on cop shows seems to be that if it can be proved that you if you shot someone you had better have some damn good evidence that it wasn't premeditated. In contrast, the first questions asked in both real and fictional rape investigations tend to be turned towards the victim - what were you wearing, how many other people have slept with, did you lead the rapist on in any way.

I believe that the stereotype of a rapist as someone who jumps out of the bushes and assaults their victim in the middle of the night is a contributing factor in the decisions of rapists to rape their acquaintances and significant others who are drunk or vulnerable or flirty. Therefore, I think that television shows that perpetuate the image of the rapist as completely slobberingly evil are at least slightly culpable in perpetuating rape culture, because no one wants to think that they know someone that evil and nuts, and so they tend to side against the victim when they accuse someone of rape. I would posit that the depiction of Mercer Hayes crossed that line - he behaved much more like a serial killer who raped instead of killing than like the average rapist who actually knows his victims behaved. If he were the only such depiction on television this would not a problem, but as stated above this is the most common depiction.

Television shows that emphasize women falsely accusing men of rape also contribute to this problem, and while Veronica Mars did balance Claire's false accusation with many real rapes, it was still an irresponsible depiction that contributes to the assumption that women are lying when they report rapes.

In moral terms, I do hold depictions of rape in the media to a higher standard than depictions of murder.* Imho, a murderer who seemed to be comparatively normal before turning out to be raving lunatic (as Aaron Echolls and Beaver did) plays very differently to me than a rapist who seemed to be normal before turning out to be a raving lunatic. To me the second reinforces the notion that if the guy continues to behave perfectly normally after the rape, and never attempts to kill the people investigating it or froths at the mouth, then he probably didn't actually do it. This perpetuates cultural ideas that have very negative effects for real life victims of rape, and I would strongly prefer to consume media that does not contain such depictions.

*I also don't like it when the people who commit murders in fiction are predominantly minorities of some kind. I'm not a fan of the guilty parties being the only ones who ever ask for lawyers either. If depictions of murder in the media are contributing to a negative understandings of murder in other ways, I would genuinely like to know about it so that I can start holding works containing those depictions to a higher standard.

From a narrative perspective, I think that the writers missed the boat by making the rapist shave the victim's head. This made it (with the exception of Claire, who managed to fake a rape by shaving her head) immediately obvious when a rape had occurred. This made it easier to run a murder mystery style plot with the rape investigations.

But I'm not sure that this served the conventions of noir or helped the writers achieve the moral gray area that they were shooting for. In order to make real murders into interesting stories (at least according to the producer of Law and Order in a recent interview on Fresh Air) it's necessary to add lots of twists and turns. The process of creating an appropriate number of red herrings often leads to victim to be fairly unlikeable or to be engaging in culpable of others crimes themselves, as a compelling story needs to have several people who would conceivably want to kill the victim. Thus, I would posit that the average murder mystery adds greyness to the murders by making the victims more complex.

In contrast, real life rape can be a fairly grey and murky business all on its own - as I pointed out above there is a moral problem in determining guilt in rape cases where no drugs were used and where the victim said no but didn't struggle.

Rape is more complex than murder because it involves an act that is not inherently a crime - having sex. Killing someone is definitely a crime, regardless of whether or not you intended to do it. If there's a dead body and physical evidence that you killed someone, intent is simply a question of degree of offense - manslaughter vs. murder. It's possible to prove that someone was given date rape drugs, and that two people had sex (assuming the victim comes forward quickly enough), but if the rapist didn't drug or otherwise physically harm his victim then determining consent comes down to the testimony of the two people involved.

This circumstance could land a narrative in exactly the sort of gray areas that noir thrives on - when everyone is corrupt whose word do you believe in such an instance? What constitutes proof? How should you act when one of your friends is accused of the crime? When one of your friends is a victim? How do you handle circumstances where the victims are too traumatized to come forward? Would Veronica's own experience of being raped and coming forward immediately affect the way she investigated and assigned blame?

A narrative that explored those questions would have been incredibly interesting and morally complex. It might also have opened up some discussion in the audience about the nature of rape and consent and the circumstances in which rape usually occurs. Instead, the narrative tried to follow the murder model, where the girls' shaven heads and the use of date rape drugs made it immediately evident that a rape had occurred. This reduced the complexity of the tale because it removed a lot of the difficulties inherent in prosecuting actual rapes, making the story much worse than it could have been in both moral and narrative terms.