The Romanticization of Rape in the Media

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by Kaitlin Petkovich

Kaitlin Petkovich is a Criminology student at Wilfrid Laurier University, taking courses that place an emphasis on women’s rights. She hopes to become a prosecutor in the future. Kaitlin is an animal rights activist and feminist. She enjoys spending time with her dog, Sprinkle, and is an avid reader.

Kaitlin wrote about the romanticization of rape culture in the media as part of her final high school report.

The imagery and diction that are presented in  mainstream media contribute to rape culture, especially those of music and television shows. These portrayals are especially harmful to teens and preteens. Misogyny is also prevalent, which is equally as harmful.

Network producers know who is watching their shows, they’re aware of how young and impressionable their audiences are. Shows like The Vampire Diaries have a large foothold in teenage audiences. Most people would say this is all well and good, these shows must be appropriate for them, as the Motion Picture Association has deemed it to be this way. This system is dangerous. Keeping The Vampire Diaries as our example, a television show that is primarily aimed at pre-teen/teen girls. This show is rated PG-13, please keep this in mind as you hear the following description.

In the show, a sixteen year old girl is depicted at ‘dating’ one of the vampires. This vampire is approximately two hundred years old. Already this show is saying that statutory rape is something to be romanticized. At this point the characters have been classified as ‘in love.’ There is an incident which results in the girl finding out that the vampire is a vampire, as it had been kept a secret.

This is a red flag, the show is promoting secretive relationships. Couples don’t know everything about each other, however, the knowledge of your partners’ species is probably something that one should be aware of. Once the character discovers her lover is a vampire she becomes distressed and makes an attempt to run away from him. The boyfriend then ‘compels’ her to have sex with him. ‘Compulsion’ is a special power that vampires in that universe possess, this power is mind control. It can be compared to drugging somebody. Afterwords, he releases her from the compulsion and she has no memory of what happened.

Let’s recap. A girl is ‘drugged.’ She ‘has sex.’ When she wakes up she cannot remember what happened. This is rape. It’s being depicted as loving. It would be nice if occurrences like this were anomalies, they are not. There are several television shows that have a pre-teen demographic which promote rape culture, Teen Wolf, The Originals, and many more.

The Vampire Diaries is rated PG-13 and it has rape in it. Not only that, the rape is romanticized, and written off as part of a loving relationship. Pre-teens aren’t able to recognize this. If rape is treated as an acceptable topic in the screenplay, the younger audience members watching it will view it as such.

They won’t be able to recognize this as abusive if it appears in their own lives because of it’s presentation in the media. The notion that this is okay not only places them at risk for being a victim but it also places them at risk to become an abuser.

This is also applicable to the music industry. Famous rappers, singers, and song writers often put rape jokes into their music and/or other lyrics which demean trauma. Young kids who don’t know any better, or may not even realize what the words mean are repeating them, because that’s what their idols are doing. Songs such as Blurred Lines, and Animals by Robin Thicke and Maroon 5 are perfect examples of this.

The mindset of rape being okay can extend outside of fiction or song lyrics. People such as celebrities use their fame to ensure that they will not be convicted of any crime they commit. In 2014 Ray Rice, a NFL player brutally assaulted his girlfriend at the time. Whilst this was not a sexual assault, they were partners. The way the football player’s actions were handled is misogynistic, and contributes to rape culture. There was a video released, some of you may have seen it. He was given no prison time. This demonstrates how the media can manipulate not only children but adults as well.

Media is a central source of information for most of the population, but especially young teens. The media continues to normalize rape and this, in the young teens mind makes rape something that is adequate. The damage that this mindset can cause is extreme. Jokes can escalate to a permanent way of thinking, which escalates to assault.

Due to high rape statistics there are two types of people who are likely to hear rape jokes. Those people are rapists, and survivors. When a rapist hears a rape joke, they feel validated. Rape jokes make rapists believe that their behaviour is appropriate. When a survivor
hears a rape joke, they relive the worst experience of their lives.

The media has an obligation to consider those who are consuming their content, and not only in a way that constitutes profit, but in a manner that illustrates the importance of safety to those watching, especially younger audience members. The way media portrays female characters, and relationships, can cause damage to the people watching.

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