Beginning a movie with a woman being brutally raped, and ending it with her vengefully murdering her offender is a surefire way to reel viewers in. Film directors know sex, violence, power, and revenge are a recipe for high ratings.
Rape-revenge story lines are embedded into many blockbuster movies—from low budget horror films to Hollywood thrillers. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and I Spit on Your Grave are both examples.
Deborah Singh believes these films are only realistic when it comes to victims’ emotions of anger and vengefulness.
Singh is a counsellor at the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape, and is a victim of sexual assault herself.
“I think we, as survivors, feel angry that someone can abuse us and get away with it, or perpetrators never have to think about it again like survivors do,” Singh said., “Survivors want justice, we want revenge, and we want him to pay the way we have paid.”
Yet, Singh has not dealt with many women who use violence to act on these feelings.
Laurier Brantford professor Dr. Judy Eaton believes revenge is natural. But as her research shows, “ultimately, it’s better for victims if they let go of these vengeful feelings.”
Eaton has a PhD in Social Psychology, and has researched why victims of violent crimes choose to attend their offenders’ execution on death row. After interviewing many victims who have witnessed their offenders being killed, she claims the impact is more negative than positive.
“They sometimes express disappointment, either that the offender didn’t apologize, or that the method of execution was too humane, or that they didn’t feel the relief they had hoped for,” Eaton said.
Kate-Christine Miller, community liaison of the feminist magazine Shameless, believes these films are satisfying to women because they offer “an easy solution to violence” that does not involve the complications of the justice system.
Miller works in a Hincks-Dellcrest Centre open custody home with male youth who have been charged under the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) including some that have committed sexual assault.
Miller does not see the protagonists’ murderous actions as a feminist triumph, but instead a dehumanizing assumption that all men who commit these crimes are “scumbags” who do not deserve second chances.
“People who commit sexual assault are people,” Miller said.
She thinks these movies completely undermine rehabilitation for men who commit sexual assault. Treatment is what makes her feel safe, not simply detaining them.
She also believes the films are too individualistic.
“They feed into this patriarchal myth that men are generally good, and there are a few who are evil,” said Miller.
It is clear there are many layers to these films. Unraveling the effects these movies have on society and the psychology behind the woman’s actions show there is much more involved in these movies than a woman on a death mission.