This is not going to be a particularly cheerful article, and it is certainly not full of my usual gum-popping, young-drunk-mess bravado. Also, if you don't want to or can't hear about sexual assault, just click on this link and get away from this tab.
OK! Let's just get the uncomfortable part of the article out of the way: Five years ago, when I was 16, I was groomed and raped by a predatory 23-year-old, Mark (obviously, not his real name). Our "relationship" lasted a whole five months before it was cut short by the police getting involved over child pornography concerns. Starting about six months after that hideousness, he stalked me for two years.
Violence against women is so sexualized and/or casually depicted on TV shows (heeyyy Game Of Thrones) that finding something entertaining that isn't also sort of triggering is hard. There's a limited number of times I can watch Jim and Pam fall in love again, so mostly I end up watching a lot of shows about cupcakes.
"So, adult (televisi)onset diabetes it is."
However, after multiple women recommended binge-watching Jessica Jones on Netflix because of the way it depicted abuse, I decided to watch the first episode.
Jessica Jones is a story in the Marvel Universe, and I know next to nothing about any of that outside of the show, so here is the most basic of background information: Jessica has super strength and works as a private investigator. As we learn about her backstory in the first few episodes, the bad guy, Kilgrave, is introduced. His superpower is mind control, and he uses it to kidnap Jessica for months, forcing her to do whatever he wants, which includes sleeping with him and killing people. She eventually gets away, but he comes back for her. Traumatic!
(I'm so sorry if you're really into comics and my description is about as nuanced as calling Lord Of The Rings a story about hungry little people on a road trip. Bear with me.)
After finishing the first few episodes, I sat in silence, alone in my room, crying. I was so goddamn excited about this show that it brought me to tears. It's really hard to be an abuse survivor and see no accurate representations of what it is like, but goddamn does Jessica Jones deliver.
#5. Abusers Genuinely Think They Love You
I'm going to write this article while being as vague as possible about actual plot points from the show so I don't fuck it up for you if you decide to watch it (which you should). I'm also telling the condensed version of my three-year abuse/stalking saga because, in terms of word count and emotional shit I want to be sharing with the Internet, this is a Cracked article and not a diary entry.
Someone being obsessed with you is terrifying, but it's even more terrifying when they think they're doing it out of love. There is no reasoning with them, because their assessment of the situation is so warped. You're the bad guy because you won't let them love you.
Throughout the whole first season, Kilgrave makes multiple comments about how he never did anything to Jessica. He was literally controlling her mind, and yet he never physically made her do anything, so he decides it was all on her own volition. He deludes himself into thinking that her forced reactions in a traumatic situation are proof not only that she has feelings for him but that he was a caring and loving partner.
His understanding of the situation is twisted enough that his fond memories of their "relationship" together are her nightmares and PTSD flashbacks of his abuse. In that line of thinking, he gets incredibly angry when she denies she loved him and angrier still when she calls what he did to her rape.
On the show, Kilgrave's reasoning seems genuine and also batshit insane, which is pretty much how it goes in real life as well. Mark believes, probably to this day, that I am the great love of his life and that no one will ever love me like he loved me. He absolutely denies he did anything wrong, because I was the age of consent and he never physically forced me to do anything. He refuses to see how it's inappropriate for there to be a relationship between a college graduate and someone who was young enough to think a Panic! At the Disco tattoo was the height of cool. I could show him emails and texts he sent me with all the red flags of abuse highlighted, and he would think it's romantic.
When I first got away, he wallowed in self-pity and sent me long emails about how he wanted to kill himself (oh, look, a red flag, dickbag). Then he got angry that I wouldn't speak to him. I was the cause of his misery, and I was telling people he was abusive and a stalker. I was taking him to court when all he wanted to do was love me. How dare I be so ungrateful.
#4. They're Obsessive
Whoa, shocking, rapist stalkers are obsessive? Wild, I know. Except that people don't really seem to grasp exactly what it means to be on the receiving end of attention that will not stop, ever, regardless of what you do.
Do you have any idea what it's like when someone literally will never leave you alone? I don't mean like Sallie Mae calling you constantly about your student loans or that guy from work who, for some reason, thinks you two are friends and keeps inviting you out for drinks. I mean, no matter what you do, no matter what you say to them, they are hellbent on being in your life.
It's a no-win situation: The more you reject them, the harder they fight for you. We're used to seeing movies frame that crap as romantic (Fifty Shades Of Grey, anyone?) Kilgrave's obsession with Jessica stems from the fact that she's powerful and won't take his shit. There is nothing she can do to make him see the truth. Telling him she hates him only makes him want her more. When she tries to kill him, he thinks it's interesting.
"Oh, this so ... us."
In one episode, Jessica finds a room where Kilgrave has photos of her tacked to every available surface -- recent photos of her, just out living her life. He breaks into her apartment at one point. He creates situations where she has to interact with him, mind-control aside. He makes it clear that he will die before he ever lets her go.
Mark chose me for reasons I'll get to later, but he began stalking me because I did something no one else had ever done to him -- I told him to fuck all the way off. Not because I'm a special snowflake or different from the other underage girls he's preyed on, but because my parents were pissed that I was doing something that had police questioning me and, at the time, I was less scared of Mark than I was of disappointing them. Feel free to reread that sentence and again realize that I was a damn child.
Once the police got involved, I shut down every channel of communication with Mark, but he still found ways to talk to me. Little stuff at first, like emailing me every six months under a different account, talking about me online or to mutual friends incessantly, using other people's Facebook accounts to look at mine.
The worst happened my freshman year of college. He was doing his master's at the same school I was beginning my freshman year at, but, as it was a huge state school, the few times I saw him on campus I was able to duck into a building or something before he saw me. It sucked and led to panic attacks every time (way less fun than disco-related panic, for the record), but it was bearable. It had been two years since I talked to him, and I thought it was over.
If your "relationship" with someone involves them saying about you, "I thought it was over,"
like a scene in a horror movie, you're probably an asshole.
Then I found out that he had catfished me. My senior year of high school, Mark made a fake Facebook profile for a kid that went to a school near me. He started chatting with me as that kid. Eventually, after six months of mutual Tumblr following and just casually talking, we exchanged numbers.
He started texting me all the time. It was weird, but I just thought he was lonely and hadn't made a lot of friends his freshman year. I talked to catfishing-Mark about actual-Mark more than once, about how it was hard for me to date or trust people after my experiences with him. He was very supportive.
I threw up when I found out who I'd really been talking to.
A girl who knew him sent me an email saying that she was at a party and Mark was talking about how he'd tricked me into a correspondence with him. He also told her that he had a friend in the registrar's office and had tried to look up my schedule.
The worst thing was that while learning that I had spoken to him for a whole year unknowingly made me want to take 60 showers and claw my own skin off, he interpreted the situation as proof that we would be perfect together if I would just be rational and give him a chance.
#3. It Can Be Difficult To Prove They're Doing It
Manipulation is not as obvious as physical control, so many people are quick to dismiss it. Jessica spends the whole season trying to prove that Kilgrave has this power so she can get an innocent girl (who Kilgrave kidnapped, raped, and forced to do some deeply fucked-up shit) out of prison. No one believes her. You can't see mind control, so it totally doesn't exist, regardless of the fact that these people live in a world where aliens apparently attacked NYC and people have superpowers, but OK, whatever, I guess.
Predatory abusers are very good at what they do. More often than not, they're very charming. They have to be; that's how manipulation works. There are a few points in the show where the writers are almost daring you to feel bad for Kilgrave, who is played by the deeply charming David Tennant. He just wants to be loved, in his very attractive accent.
I loved these scenes, because if you're not a shitty person you immediately feel sleazy about your unconscious instinct to feel badly for him, which is what we need, dammit. We need to recognize how gross it is to feel bad for rapists and abusers, even if they're charming. People are out there writing shitty, sexed-up fan fiction about Kilgrave and Jessica right now, and we all need to realize how revolting that is.
No, there really doesn't.
Because those thoughts and feelings spill over into real life. I've spoken to (fought with?) many people who think Mark is innocent because he's just so gosh-darn sweet. He identifies as a feminist (no, really). He posts Jezebel articles as his Facebook status. There are many people who think he is a swell guy.
And just like Jessica with Kilgrave, I have a hell of a time proving who Mark really is to these people. I can't show you how the age difference meant a power imbalance in our relationship. I can't show you a slideshow of all the little moments that slowly destroyed my sense of self. I can show you samples of our conversations, but I can't put into context for you what it felt like at 16 to feel special and loved and terrified of losing that.
I've brought up Mark's rap sheet, showed it to people, and have still had them think he's a good person. While he was fighting me on stalking charges, he was also in a case involving a 14-year-old girl and people still thought I was overreacting. He's so friendly! He's just heartbroken!
Some people who hear me talk about Mark even think I'm the bad guy, that I'm lying, either because I'm crazy or because I'm trying to cover up what a slut I am by saying I was abused. No, really. That's a thing people have said to me. Like, out of their face and into my face.