It's a little disturbing how sexual assault has been portrayed in comics in the past. We can all make the excuse that certain comics, such as Bob Hope or Superman, were written in a different time and were catering to different tastes. However, that leaves us wondering about the implications media have on our mindsets and approaches to sexual assault and rape. The recent tragic stories of rape victims Rehtaeh Parsons and Audrie Potts elicited more victim-blaming than support, unfortunately.
So what can we do to combat the problem?
Turns out that American college students could take a page or two out of the book of York University students Helen Marton, Shayna Lauer, and Jane Kim. These three women designed a single-panel comic that, while humorous, raises a good point about victim-blaming in sexual assault. Through the use of powerful superhero characters that are easily recognizable, the comic provides an interesting — and important — perspective on sexual assault.
In this way, the comic makes us think of the questions that we immediately ask when we hear about a rape or sexual assault. Unfortunately, rather than look into the perpetrator's actions, many people are prone to ask: What was she wearing? Where was she going? What time was it? Why was she there? This contributes to victim-blaming, leaving the victim feeling helpless and making it more difficult for them to heal and move forward with their lives.
This comic was produced as part of a graphic-design class called Design for Public Awareness and was presented in conjunction with Noa Ashkenazi, the university’s sexual harassment prevention and education adviser, in an effort to change social norms. As Ashkenazi succinctly put it, "We cannot expect police [and law enforcement] to change social norms. We need to change social norms." The hope is that this comic will spread on campus (and campuses everywhere) to promote a better understanding among students for reacting to sexual assault situations.
Professor Hadlaw, who teaches this class, was unsure whether to use comics to approach such a serious subject. However, Ashkenazi claims that it is a smart medium to use because comics still do not contain women's experiences despite changes in the past few decades. True, most of the well-known superheroes are male and there is a stereotypical portrayal of both male and female superheroes. While there are some exceptions — Tarantula raping Nightwing, for example — male superheroes are mostly portrayed as macho, ridiculously muscled, and very in charge of the situations they're in. Female superheroes and characters are usually portrayed as doe-eyed, eager to please, and highly sexualized beings.
This is not the first initiative to use comics to dialogue about sexual assault and female representation in comics. Hopefully, this growing media form, along with others, can help the anti-sexual-assault movement and allow society to progress toward the right direction. In this way, sexual-assault victims can depend on a society to listen to their stories, help them heal, and prevent such brutal violations from occurring to other people.