After Martha, and Joe, and Mindy all wrote about the sexual harassment and rape scandals that have been getting so much attention, and doing so elegantly and with well-considered reasoning, you’d think I’d move on to some topic that is more focused on pop culture.
Well, if you thought that, then you don’t know me very well, do you? I’ve got 52 years of political activism under my belt (covering 67 years of Italian beef, Jay’s potato chips and sundry forms of barbecue) and, seeing as how this is my next-to my next-to last column for ComicMix, I’m going to follow both my heart and my head.
These are very sensitive times, and understandably so. Therefore, I’m going to define my worldview up front. I am not talking about women. Or men. Or straight. Or queer. Or trans. Or of any specific race, ethnicity or religion. I’m talking about Earth and every single person who resides on it. I also make a distinction between sexual harassment and rape. This is not to trivialize either; both are ugly, dangerous, and violent acts, and both are terrible acts of Power upon the Powerless.
Actually, that last part is borderline ironic: if it were about sex, people in power acting reasonably and following our more noble instincts would get laid. Power, for some, is quite seductive. So, when these clowns impose their power upon their victims, they reveal themselves as cowards.
The one response I’ve heard over and over again is “It’s about time.” Yup, this is so. As I told a dear friend of mine – and I love quoting me – sexual harassment is as old as time. Cavemen bashing cavewomen with clubs. We’re actually several millennia past the time this shit should have stopped. Sexual harassment has been seen in every industry, every society, and every neighborhood. For example, look at all the teachers who’ve been busted the past few years for sleeping with their students. In the past that was treated with laughter. Well, maybe now, not so much.
Of course, everybody who has been near any media outlet over the past decade is familiar with the travails of children in the Catholic church and the Hide-The-Priest game Rome has been running for centuries. That’s sexual harassment, and, often, rape as well. Or, to put a point on it, these are violent acts of power upon the powerless.
The hash-tag on all this is #MeToo. In that spirit, I would like to mention that I was raped when I was 14 years-old. At the time, and that time was in 1964, I first found the situation confusing. I liked this person, I trusted this person, and I didn’t really understand what was going on. It wasn’t until I started working with rape crisis programs five years later that I really began to come to grips with what happened.
Please note that I said began. I never ratted out the creep – not because I was afraid of that person or I was afraid I wouldn’t be believed, but because the thought simply hadn’t occurred to me. If it had, it would have been way down on the list of things I had to do to deal with the experience.
The solution to all this is simple to say but very difficult to do. You have to stand up. You have to tell people what happened to you and who did it. You have to remember every detail you can, as horrible as it is, because the greater the detail the stronger the likelihood you will be believed. You’ve got to stop the predator from doing it to others and, possibly, again to you. You are a victim, but you have to rise above pathos. You have a job to do.
There’s something else that needs to be done, and it’s a lot harder to pull off. For cases such as these, we have to work out a non-adversarial judicial system where the victim is not the one who is put on trial. The defense lawyer is ethically obligated to do everything possible to free the defendant, and overall that’s a good thing. But we need to work out a somewhat different system that is equitable for both sides.
Given my youth social service work, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in family courts and children’s courts and similar places – they tend to have different names in different states. Here, children often are used as pawns if, indeed, they are not complainants. They are treated differently and, often, with more consideration than the folks in the post-adolescent courts. So, there is a starting point.
Like I said, it’s all really hard to do. But it will get easier.
Thanks to the courage of those we’ve been hearing from these past weeks, it is already getting easier.
The debate’s been going on for months now – ever since Batwoman v2 #34. Did Nocturna, the vampire super villain in the Bat books, and use her vampire hypnosis powers to rape Batwoman. I say no. But it’s not as simple as that.
Let me explain.
In Batwoman v 2 # 34, Nocturna saw Batwoman fighting and found her alluring. During the fight, Batwoman’s mask was displaced and Nocturna saw Batwoman’s face, which she recognized as that of Gotham City socialite Kate Kane.
That night, Batwoman – well, Kate Kane but I’m going to call her Batwoman – was going to bed when a shadowy figure appeared in her bedroom and this happened:
Panel One: Batwoman saw a figure in the shadows and asked, “Maggs, is that you?”
(For the record, Batwoman is a lesbian. Maggs is Maggie Sawyer, Kate’s ex-fiancée, with whom she broke up earlier the same issue.)
Panel Two: The figure caressed Batwoman’s cheek and said, “Who do you want me to be?”
Panel Three: Batwoman – her speech suddenly slurred with strange purple star-like squiggles in her word balloons – said, “Must’a had too much wine… Feelin’ a little light-headed.” Batwoman was clearly under the influence of something. This panel was from Batwoman’s POV and showed clearly Maggie reaching for her.
Panel Four: From the exact same POV the figure, now clearly Nocturna and not Maggie, reached toward Batwoman in exactly the same position as “Maggie” had been in the panel before and said “It isn’t the wine.”
Next Page: Nocturna bit Batwoman on the neck and said “And I’m not Maggie.”
Marc Andreyko, the writer of the story, responded in some Tweets that the story wasn’t just the usual “mindless slave trope,” and that no one had forced Batwoman to do anything. He asked the readers to hold off judgment until they had seen the entire story.
It’s not that simple, either.
The story didn’t actually show Batwoman and Nocturna having sex. However no one, including Mr. Andreyko, has ever disputed the interpretation that they had sex. Andreyko merely said that Batwoman wasn’t forced. So I think we can safely conclude both from the context of the story and the absence of any denial, that Nocturna and Batwoman did have sex.
Mr. Andreyko asked us to forbear passing judgment on the story until we saw the end. That end came several issues later. So for several more issues, we followed Batwoman and Nocturna through their sexual relationship. It was one where Nocturna was the dominant figure. Batwoman, in fact, seemed to be little more than manipulated and subservient. We finally got to the end of the story in Batwoman v2 #39.
In said comic, Batwoman’s sister, Beth Kane, freed Batwoman from Nocturna’s hypnotic spell. Batwoman confronted Nocturna. Nocturna didn’t deny hypnotizing Batwoman. After that the following exchange occurred.
Batwoman: “You don’t… love me?” Nocturna: “I don’t even like you. You were just so easy to ensnare.” Batwoman: “You used your powers to make me sleep with you?” Nocturna: “I bet you wish that were true. No, Batwoman that was all you. “I’m no rapist. You wanted me so I figured, ‘I haven’t done this college so why not?’ … Hypnosis can’t make you do anything you don’t really want to do… All I did was find an open door in your head. All the interior decorating in that room? Yours.”
So now I’ve seen the end of the story. I need forbear no longer. Here’s what I think.
I think Nocturna was controlling Batwoman’s mind. According to DC Comics’ own on-line database, the victims of Nocturna’s hypnosis act are controlled by her as if possessed. Nocturna admitted that she used her powers to “ensnare” Batwoman. The question is, by “ensnar[ing]” Batwoman, did Nocturna rape her? To answer that, we must examine exactly what Nocturna did.
Nocturna came to Batwoman’s room and used her abilities to make Batwoman believe she was Batwoman’s ex-fiancée, Maggie Sawyer. If Nocturna did that to make Batwoman have sex with her, the answer seems clear. That online DC database I mentioned earlier actually has a page called “sexual assault” that talks about this kind of act. For example, “Nightwing has been raped on multiple occasions. Mirage posed as his girlfriend Starfire to deceive him into having sex with her.”
If Nocturna used her abilities to make Batwoman think she was Maggie Sawyer to trick Batwoman into having sex with her, well even the DC Comics database calls that rape. The problem is, the story’s a little ambiguous and I don’t think that’s what Nocturna did.
When Nocturna came into Batwoman’s room, Batwoman was clearly under the influence of something. Batwoman blamed some wine. Doubtful. Her speech went from perfectly fine in Panel One to slurred in Panel Three. “Too much wine” doesn’t happen that fast. It’s more likely the influencing agent was Nocturna’s powers. That it was Nocturna’s influence not the wine’s is even more likely as Panel Three shows Batwoman’s POV of Maggie Sawyer reaching down to her. Wine wouldn’t make Batwoman see Maggie. Nocturna’s hypnosis could. However, the story also clearly shows Nocturna had stopped looking like Maggie before she bit Batwoman and before they had sex.
I think what happened is Nocturna made Batwoman think she was Maggie, so she could get close enough to Batwoman to bite her. Then she used her hypnosis to “ensnare” Batwoman and lower Batwoman’s inhibitions so Batwoman would have sex with her.
This is, however, one of those differences that makes no difference. Whether Nocturna got Batwoman to have sex with her by making Batwoman believe she was Maggie or made Batwoman think she was Maggie so that she could get close enough to Batwoman to bite and hypnotize her, Nocturna used her hypnosis powers to make Batwoman more compliant.
Nocturna said she didn’t rape Batwoman, because she couldn’t make Batwoman do something that Batwoman didn’t really want to do. So she didn’t use her powers to “make” Batwoman sleep with her. As Batwoman wasn’t forced to do anything, it wasn’t rape.
The fallacy with this argument is that rape doesn’t have to be by force. Remember that DC Comics database page on sexual assault? It talks about another character, Windfall, who was drugged at a frat party and raped. In that instance, force wasn’t used, but Windfall’s ability to refuse was compromised by the drug. It also talks about how Damien Wayne was the product of Batman being raped by Talia after being drugged.
It’s possible deep down both Windfall and Batman would have wanted to have sex with the person who drugged them. But just because they might have wanted to have sex does not forgive the act of drugging them so that they would be compliant and not resist. The DC Comics database calls these acts rape.
The important question is does the law call such acts rape? More important, as Gotham City’s in New Jersey, what does the law in New Jersey say about Nocturna did?
Section 2C:14-2 of the New Jersey statutes says it’s a felony of the first degree if a person has sexual penetration – trust me, the definition of sexual penetration in NJS 2C:14-1 includes the types of sexual acts that occur between lesbians – when “The victim is one whom the actor knew… was … mentally incapacitated, or had a mental … defect which rendered the victim temporarily or permanently incapable of understanding the nature of his conduct, including, but not limited to, being incapable of providing consent.” The statute clearly applies to Windfall or Batman being drugged so that they could not give consent. Does it also apply to what Nocturna did?
Nocturna hypnotized Batwoman to make Batwoman willing to have sex with her. Yes, deep down Batwoman might have been attracted to Nocturna and wanted to have sex with her, but that doesn’t mean that her having sex with Nocturna was consensual.
Let’s look at a hypothetical. A married woman is attracted to one of her neighbors and wants to have sex with him. But, she doesn’t. It would betray her husband. It would violate her wedding vows. Then the neighbor roofies her and lowers her inhibitions, so that she gives in to the desires she had successfully suppressed and has sex with him. That act would fall squarely under the New Jersey statute, because the neighbor knew the woman was temporarily incapacitated by drugs and incapable of giving meaningful consent.
Batwoman’s situation is no different. Even if she was attracted to Nocturna and deep down might have wanted to have sex with Nocturna, the reason she did have sex was because Nocturna’s hypnosis nudged her into agreeing. Batwoman was under the influence of a roofie-like hypnosis which affected her ability to give Nocturna any meaningful consent.
Nocturna did violate that New Jersey statute.
But she didn’t rape Batwoman.
However, the only reason Nocturna didn’t rape Batwoman was because New Jersey calls that crime aggravated sexual assault, not rape. So Nocturna didn’t rape Batwoman, she aggravated sexual assaulted Batwoman.
But, other than that – a difference in nomenclature – she totally raped Batwoman.
Draft number one of this narrative was written not 24 hours after I met yet another amazing young lady named Paige. This draft is number 15, and at almost six months this is the longest it’s ever taken me to finish a single article.
It seems like yesterday when I met that Paige. A 14-year-old artist who so captivated me with her talent and self-possession at that young age, I wrote an entire article about her. The only other artists I’ve devoted entire articles to were Bill Sienkiewicz and Denys Cowan.
My editorial was a plea for Paige to consider comics and its related businesses as part of what will certainly be a fantastic career in art. She’s a woman, she’s black, and she’s an artist.
A Compton office for the Klan would not be as rare a combination in this industry.
What are the odds I’d meet two black girls named Paige? What are the odds that both Paige’s would be artists, beautiful, and brilliant young ladies? They even look a bit alike – although the Paige I recently met is much darker, they could fool a person or two into thinking they were related.
They have so much in common, share so much, and couldn’t be more different if one was born in outer space.
The original Paige’s story was one of a bright young artist without a care in the world. Her smile as bright as the sun, her story and future a happy one. This Paige’s story is not a happy one, her future is anyone’s guess and her smile is dim and sad.
I talk a lot of smack – some think my smack is spun hype. It’s not. Unfortunately, it’s my life. Those ‘boys in the hood’ survival stories are all true. I’ve survived some shit that people I’ve known for 30 years thought was smoke-and-mirror bluster to underscore my badass image.
Nope – all true. Where I grew up, threats to one’s life weren’t uncommon. Twice someone tried to kill me. I survived mostly by luck and a bit of street smarts.
Compared to Paige’s ordeal, my brushes with death now seem comical.
Paige was raped repeatedly for a week, brutally and without mercy, when she was eight years old. I’m sorry, there was no easy way for me to say that, lord knows I tried 14 times. The attacks were at her school and came from older kids Paige had to see every day.
I survived my brushes with death mostly by blind luck, a well-connected sister, and an incredible mother. I was helped and still just barely endured. Paige not only survived her hell, she beat the shit out of the devil in the process, and up until very recently did so on her own.
Paige, like her namesake, is a remarkable young lady. To be so young and so well put together is rare. Unfortunately, what happened to Paige is not nearly as rare. Most black women (yes, most) I know have had some type of sexual assault committed on their person. Paige fell hard into that category. A horrible and all too-common classification.
Paige’s horror, at the time, did have an uncommon distinction: kids raped her. Eight years later it’s not so uncommon. I can’t fathom in the least the nightmare her 8-year-old self lived. I’ve written about violence against women I’ve known much too often, and always at some point I rant about how I’d like to see the rapists suffer.
I’d like to hope and pray for a time machine, confront those miserable little bastards before they reached the bathroom where the attacks took place, and erase them.
Fuck the space-time continuum.
But are the kids to blame? Yeah, they sure as hell are. I don’t give a damn how liberal I am, kids past a certain age know full well what’s right and what’s wrong. I will concede they most likely lacked the care other kids were afforded, having the misfortune of being born to worthless parents.
How I came to know Paige’s story is both humbling and empowering. Paige’s mom is producing a documentary film looking at the alarming amount of sexual assaults there are on America’s college campuses. For women of color, three out of five will be subject to the violence of rape.
For more than 20 years I’ve been involved in efforts to bring attention and ultimately end widespread violence against women. I prefer smaller venues like high schools and community centers. There’s an intimacy in a smaller setting that never fails to unite the audience. It also emboldens those to seek help or counsel in the midst of a supportive group.
On occasion, I’m lucky enough to do a large event that manages to produce the same kind of closeness. Such was the auction benefiting battered women that my dear friend and idol Harlan Ellison and I co-hosted at DragonCon in 1995. It was with that in mind I accepted a speaking engagement at a large event targeting a vast, ill-informed, and unsuspecting audience.
Think about this for a second – three out of five women of color confronted with violence on a college campus where they should expect to be safe. That’s unacceptable at any level for any woman, black, Asian, white, or fucking green. That should shock every parent of a young lady bound for college.
Before the event, I got to know Paige and we became close very quickly. I’m pretty sure Paige read some of my articles on women in my life. This year I’ve written reams about my mom Jean and my sister Sharon, the real life models for Jean and Sharon Hawkins, Static’s mom and sister. Late last year I wrote a series of articles about my beloved high school art teacher, Mrs. Darwin.
All of the articles deal with loss and pain. All of those incredible women met with untimely deaths – in the case of my sister and grandmother, violent ones. I’m convinced Paige was somehow moved by what I wrote and decided to share with me what she had not shared with anyone else.
“I’m not sure how to ease into this so I guess I will just go for it. It’s taking me a long time to be able to write let alone say these words. Nine years to be exact. Its affected me physically and most of all emotionally. I am not proud of how I used to handle what happened but this is the truth.”
“When I was eight years old, I was raped by boys at my school. It went on everyday for an entire week.”
That’s how my young friend began her letter to me. The rest of the letter is a heart-wrenching description of her torment, which succeeds in doing what I thought impossible. Paige’s account succeeds in making me cry the moment I think of it.
I thought I was cried out from my year of death and betrayal. I thought wrong.
As of this writing, Paige has told her mom she was raped. Nonetheless, she has not shared with her mom what she shared with me and I’m not sharing it here. Trust me, you don’t want to know. I’m panicking some people with my constant balling and that includes myself.
This incredible young woman lived with this gargantuan nightmare by herself for 9 years. Not just any nine years, her childhood years. It’s hard to imagine what kind of strength that takes if you’re an adult, let alone a child.
I couldn’t do it. That kind of pain? Alone? No way. I’m nowhere near that strong. I’m nowhere near that magnanimous. At eight, Paige was afraid of what to do, ashamed of what happened and confused. As she got older, her choice became clear to her: to protect her mom from the realization that would (did) knock her off her feet as hard as a Mike Tyson right hook.
Why am I telling Paige’s story here?
This from a guy who does not (did not) believe in fate, destiny, providence or any ‘outside force’ that dictates my life on a pre-ordained path.
I have no other way to describe the ‘why’ of this and yeah, I tried – 14 times before this, I tried. Thousands and thousands of words later, fate is as accurate a word to describe the chain of events as wet is to describe water. It’s my belief fate intervened and you, dear reader, are just the latest stop on its path.
Paige’s mom starts working on a film about women of color and the epidemic of sexual abuse on college campuses. She had no idea that Paige, at 17 about to enter college, was abused. Paige and her mom were godsends during my dark days dealing with my mom’s death. Paige confides in me, when I had no strength. None.
Yet somehow her trust in me gives me strength, not just for her, but also for me.
What are the odds?
After almost 10 years Paige is moved to unburden herself and thought her mom strong enough to handle it. She wasn’t, she was floored, understandably so. But as hard as her daughter’s revelation hit her, Paige’s decision to go public with her story uplifted her.
Yeah, Paige is going public with her story. Like I said, compared to Paige, I’m a little bitch.
I sent this article to my first Paige before it was published. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t exploiting her uplifting story to try and tell the heartrending story of her namesake. She would have to be okay with it or I would not mention her. The parallels and dissimilarities between the two Paige’s are remarkable and my take on the story would suffer for sure. I know, more than a few drafts taught me that.
She said yes, as I knew she would. She’s cool like that.
She was easy – my job was hard: write, then convince myself what I wrote was worthy of a young lady’s incredible act of selflessness and generosity. Fourteen drafts later, I felt I wasn’t even close. On top of that, I imagine many of you are wondering what the hell this story is doing on a pop culture site where the primary objective is to regale you with news of superheroes. that I’ve got covered: this story is of a superhero, or more accurately, it’s the continuing story of a superhero.
The two Paige’s are as different as night is from day and as similar as Clark Kent and Superman, because the two are the same person. Like Superman, Paige hid her secret identity from her friends and family to protect them. Deciding to fight the almost decade-long battle by herself.
I first wrote about an incredible 14-year-old girl. Then I wrote about a scared 8-year-old child and the 17-year-old teenager. I’m sure I’ll be writing about Paige again – how could I not? She’s my superhero.