What “Jessica Jones” Means for a Queer Rape Survivor

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Surviving rape is about more than the act of having your sexual consent taken from you, whether you were raped once, twice, or presumably dozens of times, as Jessica was. When I was raped, I was given drugs against my consent, and my rapist claimed that we had a “good time.” She told me that I said she was “the best sex” I’d ever had. Kilgrave’s words echo this when he’s telling Jessica that eating in the best restaurants and hanging out in hotels makes their sex consensual. Rapists make excuses for their behavior and believe that treating someone well or caring about them makes them deserving of sex. No matter how many times Jessica repeats that he raped her, he won’t believe it. Many survivors, myself included, have been there: standing up for yourself to no avail.

What does it mean to be a rape and abuse survivor? Jessica Jones portrays it beautifully—the shame, the feeling that it’s your fault, the feeling that anything you did while you were with that person was what you wanted to do, the anger, the lack of control. While I never killed anyone for my abuser, I directly hurt several people because she manipulated me into doing so. For years, I lived believing that it was my fault, which even though I was being forced to do it, it was still my choice. When she sexually assaulted me while I was in a relationship, I called it cheating. I ignored the fact that she physically hurt me and emotionally manipulated me into being with her. Instead, I counted out my “crimes” to my friends and girlfriend, apologizing for what I’d done.

This is so intrinsic to the experience of survival. I was right there with Jessica when, even after she was able to come to terms with the fact that Kilgrave was controlling her, she still blamed herself for Reva’s death and the other crimes she committed for Kilgrave.

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It took me several years to understand that my abuser was even an abuser and a rapist, and not a friend. Like Kilgrave, she made our experiences out to be consensual, and professed love for me in public, dramatic ways—but like Kilgrave, she expected something in return. It was not enough to just “love” me. She needed to control me. When I wanted to make my own decisions and have bodily autonomy, she became physically and emotionally abusive and trapped me in a cycle where I believed that if I acted out, she would cut herself, or worse, commit suicide. I lived in fear of having someone else’s blood on my hands.

Jessica sends photos to Kilgrave every morning at 10:00 a.m. for part of the series, in exchange for Malcom’s life. That’s what it means to be controlled without mind manipulation. That was what it was like for me, when, for my abuser, I held hands in public every day for weeks. We walked through the cafeteria hand-in-hand, her with a smile plastered across her face, but I was only doing it because I thought I was saving a life. Kilgrave’s direct ability to control people is easily and clearly a metaphor for abuse (the real life kind, without his “gifts”), but the series stands firm: even when Kilgrave isn’t able to directly control someone, he still manipulates and abuses them. The series gives us this as a way to show that it’s not ever the victim’s fault, whether they’re literally mind-controlled or not.

The most cathartic part of watching Jessica Jones, as a survivor, is that Jessica doesn’t “get over” being raped and abused. It’s been four years this March since I was raped, and had my last contact with my abuser. We haven’t spoken in years, and unlike Jessica, I haven’t been unfortunate enough to share the same space with her since. But I do know that being a survivor doesn’t go away, and like Jessica, I wake in the night from intense nightmares, and sometimes need to repeat to myself that I’ll be okay and that I can survive.

Kilgrave, as a villain, is a man, and I’ll always be wishing for a complicated, nuanced portrayal of same-sex rape and abuse in fiction. (Hogarth, as a selfish woman who literally doesn’t blink when her ex-wife dies beside her, is a step in the right direction as far as showing queer people in all lights, including villainous ones, so I’m hopeful.) But he’s also someone who doesn’t believe he’s a rapist or an abuser, and in fact, sees himself as a victim of life instead. This resonates, because, in my experience, many rapists and abusers feel this way. Mine, too, had a traumatic childhood with crappy parents—but there’s nothing I love more than when Jessica stands firmly against this trope. “My parents died,” she spits at Kilgrave when he’s trying to prove he’s also a victim. “You don’t see me raping anyone!”

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My mom died when I was in middle school, so on many levels, Jessica Jones is me. She’s the hard-liquor drinking, sarcastic, kick-ass version of me because I’m not physically strong and I can barely drink wine without spitting. She says what people like me—rape survivors, abuse survivors, and people with survivor’s guilt—need to hear: that what we went through wasn’t our fault, and if people try to make it seem like having a traumatic or sad upbringing is an excuse for manipulating, hurting and abusing others, they’re wrong.

I won’t have the satisfaction of killing my rapist in the end, even though I know she’s manipulated and assaulted other people, but I do know one thing: the next time I’m having a flashback in a state of panic, I have a new mantra. “Birch Street, Higgins Drive, Cobalt Lane.”

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