This title is not a joke. This post is without pictures for a reason. If discussion of rape in fiction, or in general, upsets you due to personal reasons, I do not blame you for an instant and would much rather you skip this chapter than find yourself in an uncomfortable situation. This chapter will be as snarkless as I can make it because when it comes to this subject, I. Do. Not. Play.*
Barring murder, which is a crime that really won’t go unreported for long, rape is probably number two on our list of heinous things that human beings can, and sadly will, do to one another. Rape statistics, though, can be wildly misleading depending on the country one is in. Inconsistent definitions of rape can take 0.2 reported instances per 100,000 people in Azerbaijan to a whopping 132.4 per 100,000 reporting rape in South Africa (oddly, one of the countries with very progressive laws regarding rape in several circumstances which came about due to local superstitions claiming that having unprotected sex with a virgin will cure AIDS which caused grown-ass men to rape BABIES, sick motherfuckers).
It is a supremely under-reported crime and this is what makes people think that it isn’t actually a problem. Statistics can’t even really be considered accurate because there are SO many reasons why it will go unreported. Fear of retaliation. Not wanting to get the offender in trouble (Wait, what?). Unsure if a crime was actually committed or if the local laws will consider it rape (many countries will only recognize “male-female” rape and almost NO studies have been performed in regards to “female-female” or “male-male”). Not wanting others to know because of shame and stigma. A lack of trust in local law enforcement. Not knowing HOW to report the crime.
And, as a big detractor. in many countries, a person who reports rape but cannot prove it will suffer criminal penalties themselves (alongside those countries where extramarital sex has its own set of punishments, thanks, self-righteous Abrahamic religions). In Africa, several countries have laws that institute the death penalty for consensual sodomy so if a victim cannot prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they were raped and not a willing participant, guess who’s on the chopping block?
The statistics I found in regards to the US (https://www.ncjrs.gov/app/publications/abstract.aspx?ID=240972) can also vary based on the circumstances of the incident. Was the victim forcibly raped? Was the victim drugged against their will? Was the victim otherwise inebriated or incapacitated? Was the act violent or coerced? Those statistics tell us that nearly 20% of women in the US (and 11.5 percent of women in college) have been raped based on surveys and only 16% of those crimes were reported to law enforcement.
Keep in mind that I am deliberately mostly sticking to figures regarding women, here. This is because there is one trope used in several kinds of fiction that disturbs me on a number of levels. The child born of rape.
We all know that rape is often written into a fictional work as a power-play. It’s mostly (read “99.9999999% of the time) unnecessary but can provide tension and a cause for a rape-revenge scenario. In works by female artists, it’s used as a cathartic move. In works by men, it can be either sympathetic, created out of solidarity toward women, or just a sick fantasy. (Seriously, this is the one kink I will actively shame someone for. Yes, I get that it’s impossible to rape someone who refuses to withhold permission but there are going to be those times when you say no and if people don’t expect it, there’s gonna be a problem.) A lot of times, particularly in bad Mary Sue fanfiction and despite what some politicians would have you believe regarding the human female’s ability to “shut down” a pregnancy, that fantasy extends to a child born of a violent and unnecessary union.
As a sub-trope, though, the child of rape can bring us to some interesting places. Most often because the child of rape is largely portrayed as the evilest evil thing that ever eviled evilly.
We all know that marital rape is actually a new concept and even serial killers don’t always have horrible childhoods so we know that "rape children are evil" REALLY isn’t true. Thing is, though, it does provide a thought-provoking facet to an otherwise two-dimensional character’s life, whether the victim or the child. In Night of the Demon, a girl is raped by Bigfoot and bears his child. Even the Final Girl isn’t immune, as seen in The Prey.
In terms of just the children, though, on the heroic side, we have those characters that are wholesome and good despite their parentage. Of course, on that same side, we have the character that wants to white knight for their wronged mother and slaughter the son of a bitch that hurt her. And, on the other hand, we’ve got the villains.
Oh, yes, the villains.
The ones who kill for fun. The ones whose parents treated them as if they were a curse. The neglected and abused children who, through no fault of their own, get back-handedly blamed for the crime committed against their mother and grow up believing that they are monsters so they act like it.
We all know that Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm St) was called “The bastard son of 100 maniacs”. The deformed murderer in Dario Argento’s Phenomena is a product of such a union. The killer from Cherry Falls was the child of a woman that the local police chief (and father of our Final Girl) and his jock buddies decided to “have a little fun with”. Eleanor from Byzantium, while not technically a villain, is still a vampire. In rare cases, because fiction usually assumes that a rapist is male, the child is the result of the mother raping the father, such as La Morte D’Arthur where Mordred is the result of Arthur being tricked into getting Morgan Le Fey pregnant and in Black Christmas where jaundiced and yellow-eyed Agnes was conceived in much the same way.
It may not be right to almost celebrate rape with the enjoyment of these characters but their origin does give you something to think about no matter how bad the rest of the movie is. Would they be different if their parentage was legitimate? What if they ended up being adopted and lovingly cared for? Are characters like this written as a subtle means of promoting a pro-choice message? Why did the creator imagine them with this particular origin?
I mean, I get it but of all of the different means of becoming a villain, why is rape kind of a go-to? Why does an innocent child have to be written with that stigma. Is the pathos worth it? If the writing is well-handled and the actor doesn’t go off the rails with it, sure. As long as it’s not a cheap shot to the nuts, go for it. If the rape itself is treated with the respect an actual crime is due then, by all means, give us the goods.
Just don’t sell us on a crappy character with this background being shitty based solely on the shittiness of their conception.
*If you are a victim of sexual assault and need someone to talk to, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or use their online chat at https://ohl.rainn.org/online/. Hell, I can be reached on Facebook and Twitter if necessary.*