In light of the recent Game of Thrones rape scandal, rape and rape culture have once again become the topic of debate. While many people naturally looked upon the scene in disgust, the same was not true of all people. These past few weeks, victim-blaming, misogynistic, rape-apologist rhetoric has once again made its way into the secluded corners of the internet that I tend to frequent. Hey, it’s the internet, so I couldn’t avoid it forever.
Sadly, this is nothing new. This is a society-wide problem that stems from a lot of dark places, and no matter where you go, you will always find offensive misunderstandings about what rape is and a dismissal of its consequences on its victims. Even more unfortunate, it’s not just limited to Game of Thrones. Rape-apologist themes recently made their way to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and before that, you could find them in shows like True Blood, Stargate SG-1, Charmed, and many, many others. And that’s not to mention something like Family Guy. Rape themes are in our musicals, our TV, our video games, and our books. In many ways, they’re treated as a joke and rarely are they ever presented in a realistic light. More often than not, rape is used for shock value. Of course none of us should be surprised that we find the same thing in fanfiction.
We have fanfiction that like to tell us that rape is love, a trope I first found in my Zelda fanfiction. Ganondorf kidnapped and raped Zelda. The two then fell madly in love and fought back against the evil Link, who was trying to tear them apart. I’ve seen this trope in Final Fantasy, between Cloud and Reno, Sephiroth and Aerith. We also have fics that tell us that rape is a suitable punishment for women who need to be put in their place or men who commit crimes. Kairi from Kingdom Hearts is a victim of this, which is one of the reasons I steer clear from Kingdom Hearts fanfiction. Severus Snape often falls victim to this as well. Additionally, there are fics that tell us that victims who are mind-controlled into sexual acts are just sluts who deserve it or cheating bastards. I see this again with Kairi a lot, and Mozenrath from Aladdin (or any sci-fi show I’ve ever watched). We’re told that rape is funny. That rape is shocking. That rape is always a “back alley” scenario involving a masked attacker. That virgin rape is worse than non-virgin rape. So on and so forth.
I personally find that last trope to be one of the more damaging rape myths out there.
I believe I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. Fanfiction is a fascinating place. If you want to delve into a people’s collective consciousness, read fanfiction. It won’t teach you anything about reality or how the world actually works, but it will teach you how people perceive the world. Lord knows that I learned a lot about how societal views enforce misogyny through reading fanfiction. So naturally, it also teaches us about how society looks at rape and rape culture.
As someone who’s never had sex and as such was a “virgin” during all of my attempted assaults, the virgin rape myth really bothers me. It almost bothers me as much as the fact that we still live in a society where we actually have to explain to people what rape both is and is not. The virgin rape stories grind my gears in a way that other rape stories don’t. What the hell is virginity, anyway? How are we classifying who’s a virgin and who’s not? So let me just say that virginity is not a thing; it’s a concept, and it’s a poorly defined concept at that. I might call myself a virgin out of habit, but personally, I don’t identify as a virgin, because I don’t believe virginity exists. But that is not the mindset that these stories come from. There is this idea that a woman’s virginity is some precious gift that can be horribly snatched from her by a rapist. While there is nothing wrong with a person who wants to save him- or herself for a special someone, there is definitely a problem with the idea that chaste people have worse rape experiences than non-chaste people.
I will concede that it might be true that victims who have never engaged in sexual acts before being assaulted might have a harder time recovering, if only because their first experience was a traumatic event and they are less likely to have good memories to counteract the bad ones. However, that is where that idea both begins and ends. How a person reacts to being raped is dependent upon that person—some people have worse reactions than others, and for the most part, “virginity” has very little to do with it.
I tend to find virgin rape themes in fics starring OCs more than I do so with canon characters. Unfortunately, much like all the other rape tropes, this one is everywhere. I’ve seen it in Naruto fics, Twilight fics, Harry Potter. Hell, I’ve even found stories like this for Pan’s Labyrinth between Ofelia and her stepfather. If something has fanfiction, chances are there’s a virgin rape fic out there for it. And though I do believe that OCs can be thought-out, decent characters, that is almost never the case when it comes to a virgin rape narrative. Additionally, when these narratives star canon characters, said character often is reduced to his or her virginity. Often, virgin rape is used for shock value, to make us pity a character that we otherwise have no reason to care about, because that character is defined by his or her virginity and wants to have a special first time. These stories almost perfectly articulate what is so wrong with society’s perception of rape. The victim in question won’t be upset about being raped—she’ll be upset about losing her virginity to someone she or he doesn’t love. Rape is not losing your virginity to someone you don’t love, as many of the virgin rape fics go. These fics perpetuate an idea that they are mutually exclusive. They can enforce the idea that only virgins can be raped, or that the victim is now “damaged goods”.
Often times, a hero will swoop in and save our damsel-in-distress—saving her “virginity”, which she’ll probably “gift” to him later—and in many ways, stories with this subplot are more damaging than ones with a completed rape. I find that virgin rape fics with completed rapes will at least attempt to show the victim’s PTSD. That tends to not be true of the ones in which she is saved. This can easily send a message that if you are a “virgin” about to be raped, and no one saves you, it’s because you’re just not good enough. I could link to about twenty different fics off the top of my head alone that do this, but I’d prefer not to give them more attention. However, if you really want to read an example of this, Naruto and Harry Potter OCs experience this a lot.
Of course, this isn’t just limited to fanfiction, so if I have to give an example, let’s look at Twilight—which sadly utilizes a lot of common fanfiction tropes, especially when it comes to sexual assault. But as I said, fanfiction represents a people’s collective consciousness. So it’s not surprising that we see these same themes in published works. I wouldn’t even blame Stephenie Meyer’s poor writing skills for including these themes, because this virgin rape idea is indicative of a wider problem. And other, better authors utilize rape themes all the time without even realizing it.
Bella is almost gang-raped in the first book and is saved by Edward. Another character, Rosalie, who is essentially the “bitch” vampire in Edward’s family, actually was gang raped. Both girls are portrayed as having put themselves in their situations—but one is saved, and not the other. Rosalie barely knew her betrothed when she went out with him, so he obviously wasn’t anyone special to her, and was raped as a result.
In many ways, the narrative holds Rosalie, not her assailants, responsible, and treats her as if she just wasn’t good enough to be saved. Also, it tells us that if she knew him better, she might have known what would happen. She’s the “bitch” who “asked for it”. It perpetuates the false belief that rape cannot be committed by someone you know well, trust, and love. Bella, on the other hand, is special enough to have caught Edward’s attention, is saved, and then experiences almost no negative emotional consequences to her assault. In fact, the story is more concerned about how Edward feels about the assault than how she feels about it. In both cases, the victims in question don’t matter. They “asked for it”. I can almost assuredly say that if Bella had been raped, she would have been more concerned about her virginity and Edward’s perception of her than the actual rape itself. I can say that because the scene plays out exactly the same way as so many of the virgin rape fics I have read. And it is very easy to see the damaging messages that this particular trope sends.
It victim-blames, it slut-shames, and it teaches us that virginity is some sacred intrinsic part of someone, that our value as people relies on how we lose said virginity. This is only one of the many offensive, misogynistic rape myths that is perpetuated in our media. There are so many of them that it’s hard to say which ones are more damaging than others. But they all stem from the same place: a misunderstanding as to what rape actually is and how it affects its victims. Unfortunately, until more people are educated on this matter, I don’t foresee these problems going away anytime soon.