Jessica Jones and Relationship Violence
"All you gave me was shame!"
[Content warning for discussion of rape and domestic violence]. [Not SPOILER free].
Jessica Jones has been getting a lot of (well-earned) acclaim for being gritty, well-designed, and compelling. Frankly, it's one of the best things Marvel has done. But this show deserves credit for something else. Honestly, I was nervous going in. I was familiar with the comics, and I knew that one of the crimes The Purple Man/Kilgrave committed was sexual assault. And unfortunately that's not a subject that our media handles well. We victim-blame. We sympathize with attackers.
In the court of public opinion, we often absolve them of any crime. According to RAINN, only 3 out of every 100 rapists ever spend a day in prison. The majority still go unreported, and victims often state that they don't come forward because they're scared. They're shamed into silence. Or they're dismissed, told that they're wrong about what they experienced. Told they're lying, or blowing it out of proportion.
Jessica Jones shut that right down. Just in case the images won't load, here's the text of that scene:
Kilgrave: We used to do a lot more than just touch hands. Jessica: Yeah, it's called rape. Kilgrave: What? Which part of staying in five-star hotels, eating in all the best places, doing whatever the hell you wanted, is rape? Jessica: The part where I didn't want any of it! Not only did you physically rape me, but you violated every cell in my body and every thought in my goddamn head. Kilgrave: That is not what I was trying to do. Jessica: It doesn't matter what you were trying to do! You raped me. Again and again and again. Something horrific happened to this woman.
Kilgrave used his powers to force her to do whatever he wanted. He brainwashed her, and while most abusers don't have powers, they often use manipulative tactics to force their victims to stay with them. Kilgrave is a monster and he used his powers to control her. And then he convinced himself that he was the victim, that he had done nothing wrong. Which is what makes him the villain of this story. And what's amazing is that he reads just like a textbook case of an abuser. He's self-centered, he's obsessed with her, stalks her, he's convinced that they're in love and "meant to be", so sure that he's in the right and that she's just "acting crazy", that they're in a "rough patch".
And when he finally realizes she doesn't want him... "Or maybe I'll just kill her."
For most victims of domestic violence, the times when they try to leave their partners are the most dangerous. Abusers adopt the mentality of "if I can't have her, no one can", the most extreme iteration of a repeating pattern of abuse: treating their partners like objects or possessions. Jessica Jones is a hero.
And not just because she's powerful, or because she tracks down bad guys. It's because this show faced the horror of rape and relationship violence head on. Something that 1 in 3 American women face at one point in their lives. Jessica Jones stood up for all of those women and said no, this isn't love. This is torture. This is abuse. Her struggle to provide evidence in the courtroom, her own self-doubt and trauma, even her attempts to save him are all battles that victims often have to face. She faced the demons, and maybe someone else will see her and find the courage to do the same. "Abuse thrives only in silence."
If you want more information on the subject, this TED talk by survivor Leslie Morgan Steiner is a little more grounded in reality. However, I've found that sometimes fiction can be just as effective. It can be easier to examine fictional villains to see patterns that can lead to violence, and it can be empowering to look up to fictional heroes when we need courage. Which is why Jessica Jones has my deepest gratitude.