She-Hulk, Sexual Assault, and Why I Think Dan Slott Did a Good Job
Ragnell recently did a post on why she the latest issues of She-Hulk played into the idea that many rape accusations are false. I have a lot of respect for Ragnell, and agree with most of her observations, but in this case I couldn't disagree more.
Here's the not-so-long summary. Starfox is a superhero character, (can fly, kick ass, fights evil, etc) with 'love powers.' He can make anyone love, and be happy. This comes in handy when villains need convincing, but most of you readers can see where this is going.
One day, a woman accuses Starfox of using his powers to rape her. There's a trial, and during the trial Jen hears the victim give testimony that sounds a little to much like what happened to Jen herself one night when she and Starfox slept together.
There's a long, convoluted break in the middle of this, but when the final answer comes out, it turns out that Starfox's brother once kidnapped him and implanted a memory within him. This caused Starfox irreparable brain damage that caused him to partially lose control of his love powers. This is the part that Ragnell disagrees with. She writes that this amounts to the victim and She-Hulk falsely accusing Starfox of an imagined rape.
Honestly, it never read like that to me. To me, it was very clear that the victim was raped. She wasn't 'making something up.' Starfox did use his powers on her. That did remove her ability to reason, and thus did not allow her to consent. She was raped.
The argument isn't that Starfox is innocent. If anything the only defense is diminished capacity to reason. He didn't know that he was using his powers, just thought that the woman was willing to have sex with him. In fact, at the end of the story, Starfox willingly gives up his powers, horrified by his own brush with mind control. He's then told that before his sin is fully expiated he has to seek forgiveness from all his 'victims.' The word they use is 'victims.' It's clear that what he did was rape, even if he didn't know it.
Not only that, but I like several other aspects of the story.
First, we get the story from all sides, including the victim's. You get several of the Avengers discussing various aspects of Starfox's personality. Some are more suspicious than others. Starfox glibly maintains that he is innocent. Jen wavers back and forth. But the story makes time for the victim's point of view, too. The story starts by introducing Starfox, and then cuts to the bedroom where the victim wakes up, and wonders why Starfox is in her bedroom. After getting the story, she waits for him to leave, and then bursts into tears, indicating that at least she believes she's been raped.
But she's not perfect. We are not subjected to a Sunday School Teacher virgin dragged into a dark alley. At trial we learn that she was obsessed with superheroes, that she was flirtatious with him in the bar and she initiated contact. I like that. Nobody has the perfect victim's story. Everyone has aspects of their life or their personality that don't look good in a courtroom. It shouldn't be cut and dried.
Starfox, throughout the story, maintains that he is innocent, but it's clear he's not entirely ethical either. He flees trial. He uses his powers to patch up a fight between Jen and her boyfriend. He sets up two of Jen's colleagues, again using his powers.
And those two colleagues, Mallory and an android who absorbs powers, Awesome Andy (DC readers think Amazo, but clunky looking and silver), provide another story. Andy absorbed (unknowingly) Starfox's powers, and kept the love-mojo going. Andy is genuinely in love with Mallory, but as soon as he realizes what the situation is, he gives up all his powers and confesses to her what happened. He provides the moral standard for the story. As soon as he realizes she can't consent to the relationship, he backs out, no matter what it costs him. He sees no alternative.
I also like that the story isn't dropped. In later books Mallory deals with the consequences of the mind control, and feeling sexually violated. And I think her storyline is done well. After she leaves Andy she immediately starts dating the guy she was in love with before she and Andy were together. She gets on with work. When she sees things that remind her of the relationship, she freaks out, but she isn't the perpetually traumatized victim.
And always I got back to that one woman who knew she was raped, and went to court with it, despite the public humiliation, the danger to her marriage, the crowds of Starfox fans outside the courtroom, the way the trial never seemed to go her way. It was her action that finally uncovered the situation, and prevented a brain-damaged superpowered hero charging around the universe and more sexual assaults. That's what I took away from the story.