The Kilgrave effect: Why it’s so hard for sexual assault and harassment victims to speak out
Jessica Jones, a popular Marvel superhero is known not only for her physical strength but also for her psychological resilience. Years after she gains her superpowers, Jessica is psychologically manipulated by an evil villain, Kilgrave (A.K.A. Purple Man). Kilgrave uses his influence over Jessica to force her into a sexual relationship with him, as well as to force her to do things she normally would not do.
When Jessica finally frees herself from him, she is traumatized. She has nightmares about him, flashbacks, she is irritable, angry, hypervigilant, she abuses alcohol, and avoids talking about what happened to her. She presents with visible symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In fact, for the longest time, Jessica does not want to be anywhere near Kilgrave, afraid that he will hurt or manipulate her again. It is only when she learns that Kilgrave is preying on other women that Jessica takes action to ensure that he cannot hurt anyone else.
Recent posts have shed light on the obscene amount of manipulation, sexual assault, and abuse of power in the entertainment industry. Producers, such as Harvey Weistein, and other high profile individuals have been accused of sexually assaulting actors, models, and journalists.
Legion of Leia’s own founder, Jenna Busch, reports that she had been sexually harassed, grabbed, and fondled on numerous occasions in her career as a journalist, actor, and make-up artist. Busch recalls a particular incident in which a fellow actor pulled out his penis in front of her in the dressing room, insinuating that the two should have sex. She also mentions the numerous times that she was groped and grabbed with excuses such as, “well, I don’t see a ring on your finger” and “what’s the big deal? It’s only a grab on the butt.”
“Except it’s not just a grab on the butt,” Jenna says. “It’s the 75th grab or the 75th joke and after a while it weighs on you… Each incident may seem small but it’s not just one incident. It’s a lifetime of feeling powerless.”
Jenna reports that for a long time she did not speak out. “You had to be the “cool” girl. If you spoke out, there was a fear that no one would ever want to work with you again.”
In my case, I was working at a big real estate company. My brother got me that job. He was working there too. My boss used to pass by me, running his erection against me several times a day. He used to tell me to lock the office door and call me into his office for long hugs during which he also rubbed himself against me. He also used to call me when he would travel to tell me that he wished I were in a hotel with him, making him breakfast in bed. I was 16. He was in his 40’s. I didn’t speak out, afraid that my brother would lose his job if I did. When I couldn’t put up with it any longer, I quit.
Women who have a history of sexual assault are likely to be traumatized by subsequent incidents and loss of power in the workplace. One of my sources, let’s call her “Amanda,” reports that after a history of being roofied and raped by an unknown stranger, she felt too embarrassed to report the incident. However, when her boss later started making inappropriate remarks toward her, forcing her to perform duties outside of her job requirements, she was triggered and overwhelmed. Her boss, a notorious media figure, would force her to accompany him to social events, stating, “I need a hot girl next to me.” The multiple times he coerced Amanda to act against her wishes reminded her of her trauma.
“I felt like my mind was being raped,” she said. “It has affected every aspect of my life – my friends, family, my relationship. I haven’t felt safe and I haven’t been able to get that safety back.” Amanda has not felt safe enough to speak out until now because of the fear that no one will hire her if she did. She stated that her boss has a lot of influence and has a history of pitting people against each other.
Although she no longer works for that individual, the situation affected Amanda so much that she had later developed chronic illness, which now makes it extremely difficult for her to work. She is not the only one whose health has been affected by a stressful work situation. Men and women worldwide are reporting that their job is affecting their levels of chronic pain and stress, sometimes resulting in other illnesses, such as inflammation, ulcer, and even cancer.
A board member of an established Los Angeles radio show, a married older man, took an interest in my other source, Maude Garrett. Maude reports that her boss frequently called her, asking her to accompany him to dinner. The man was relentless despite Maude’s continuous rejections. When she brought up the incident to her two male producers, they laughed at her, suggesting that she “should just go to dinner with him.” The harassment did not stop until Garrett brought it up to the 2nd in Command at the station, a woman. Her superior made sure that Maude was safe and that the board member did not contact her again.
Garrett’s attempt to receive help from her producers only to not be taken seriously and to be laughed at is why many women struggle coming forward. The trauma of sexual abuse, assault, or harassment has its toll and our natural instinct when we are overwhelmed and scared is to hide and run away. If however, the trauma survivor comes forward, trying to obtain justice against their attacker, they might be further traumatized if people do not believe them and do not take them seriously. There are not many experiences that are more invalidating than to be told that something that has hurt and devastated us to our very core “is not a big deal.”
It is true that many people have struggled in coming forward until now. Seeing others take a courageous step forward can allow us to do the same.
“I didn’t know I had a voice until I established the Legion of Leia,” Jenna Busch says. “I wanted to be able to give a voice to others who needed it.”
Amanda joins Jenna’s sentiment in stating, “I just want to be able to create safety for myself and others.” She then adds, “Maybe it happened to me, so that I can help others.”
In fact, that is what Jenna, Amanda, and Maude have in common. Like the numerous women who are courageously speaking out against sexual predators like Harvey Weinstein, these women are speaking out to ensure that other people do not experience the same types of harassment and abuse as they did. Maude Garrett is actually collaborating with a network of professionals to develop a solution – an online forum to educate men and women about their legal rights, safety, psychological care, as well as proper communication and etiquette.
“We have known about the problem and have only focused on the problem all this time. We are finally reaching a solution,” Garrett says.
She is hoping to release information about these resources within a month.
It is apparent that the biggest reason women (and men) who have been sexually abused or assaulted by their superiors might have a hard time coming forward. Like Kilgrave, their bosses and other high profile individuals might have a lot of influences over their lives. However, just like Jessica Jones, Jenna, Amanda, Maude, and countless other women who have stepped forward this week are fighting back against their villains. When we fight back against our villains, they lose power. When we fight back, we win.
**If you or someone you know have been sexually assaulted or abused, visit RAINN.org to obtain resources for safety and recovery. If you or anyone you know are in crisis, please text 741741, it is free and confidential, help is available 24/7.
Dr. Janina Scarlet is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, a scientist, and a full-time geek. A Ukrainian-born refugee, she survived Chernobyl radiation and persecution. She immigrated to the United States at the age of 12 with her family and later, inspired by the X-Men, developed Superhero Therapy to help patients with anxiety, depression, and PTSD. She currently works at the Center for Stress and Anxiety Management in San Diego.