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We Are All Complicit In Buffy's Rape

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is often held up as one of the great pro-female television shows.  Buffy herself is typically cast as one of the strongest female characters of all time, which is true, although it give the wrong impression to people who haven't seen the show. 

Buffy is human, too.  She's just a teenage girl, and as such she enjoys giggling, skipping classes, and going out dancing instead of staying home and doing her homework.

That lack of judgment, combined with her youth and inexperience, is how she was nearly raped by one of the most popular characters on the show. 

I had forgotten all about this until Sady Doyle mentioned it in a recent article on The Awl.  I always used to call it "that one episode we never talk about."  Whenever I mention it to another Buffy fan, they invariably shuffle their feet awkwardly and then say something like, "I prefer to pretend that episode isn't canon."

Here is what happened in That One Episode: Buffy steps out of the shower and wraps a towel around herself.  She is in her bathroom, in her home, all alone.  She has a badly injured back, which has sapped her strength.  Spike, the bad boy vampire who has been romantically obsessed with her from day one, comes in and knocks her down and very nearly rapes her before she can stop him.

And… life goes on, basically.  Buffy decided, for a lot of reasons, not to tell her friends about it.  She and Spike continue to travel in the same social circles.  He feels real bad about it, and makes a grand gesture to apologize, and he ends up a beloved character on the (better, if you ask me) spin-off show "Angel," and everybody loves Spike.

We all love Spike.  We have conveniently forgotten his attempted rape.  It was easy to forget: we just stopped thinking about it.  We didn't forgive Spike so much as forget that there was a reason why we ought to.

And that, in a very meta sense, is exactly what happens in real life.  In real life, only 15% of rape victims report their crimes to the police.  85% of the time they do the same thing that Buffy did: they clean themselves up, and change their clothes, and keep it to themselves, and die a little in their heart, where it really counts.

People often wonder why a woman wouldn't report a rape.  But why did we keep watching Spike?  Why didn't we insist that his character be taken off the show?  By quietly watching Buffy and Angel, we did the same thing.  Because we wanted things to go back to "normal."  Because by admitting that it happened, we would have to admit that we did nothing to stop it.

And at this point, almost nine years later, well.  Why stir the pot?  What's to be gained?

I don't know the answers to these questions.  But I watched the show, and I watched all the shows afterward, and I've seen every episode of "Angel" at least three times.  And I've kept my mouth shut, too.

Photo credits: Flickr/ibtrav

Ed. note: Just to clear up a surprisingly common misunderstanding, I'm not calling for James Marsters to have lost his job over this. I like James Marsters a lot. I like what he brought to both shows. I can name several episodes of both Angel and Buffy which are only redeemed by Marsters' presence. I enjoyed seeing him speak on a panel at Emerald City Comicon this year, and I wish he would spend more time on Torchwood.

This article is not about James Marsters. It is about you and I, as viewers.