By Jude Deluca
Part of what Endangered Bodies seeks to do is promote body positivity and a healthier sense of autonomy in our readers. At least, that’s what I believe EB does. For my part, I’ve begun exploring the dynamics around the presence of rape in comic books, talking about how portrayals of rape affect public and private spheres of thinking and the effects it has on us, abuse survivors, especially in how we view our bodies, how we have interpersonal relationships, and how we perceive love.
For this post, I’m looking into a miniseries published by DC Comics that demolishes most norms surrounding thoughts on sexual abuse, deconstructing false ideas like “Abuse victims will eventually imitate their abusers” and “Sexual abuse can only happen in poor neighborhoods.” In doing so, it creates a sense of liberation for abuse survivors, telling us our bodies aren’t programmed to imitate our abusers because of what happened to us, and our backgrounds had nothing to do with it either. In this way it helps remove any sense of shame or guilt we may have internalized from thinking we might have brought on our abuse just because of whom we are or where we live.
“Batman: The Ultimate Evil” was a novel written by Andrew Vachss before it became a two comic miniseries by Neal Barrett Jr., Denys Cowan, and Prentis Rollins. It departs from the usual foray of costumed villains to explore the consequences of child abuse, rape, and child sex trafficking. This was published in 1995 to raise awareness of child sex tourism rampant in Thailand.
Batman’s alter ego Bruce Wayne attends a charity gala showcasing a false image of Gotham City meant to bring money and investors to Gotham and meets Debra Kane, a social worker. Debra’s personality is quickly established when she calls out Bruce’s upper class associates on their shallow perceptions that poverty causes crime. She says people cause crime, with the maltreatment of children the greatest contributor to latent criminal behavior. I’ll be talking about Debra quite a bit, and although she’s not as present in the story’s second half, many of its essential points are discussed through her.
(Debra Doesn’t Mince Words/Ultimate Evil #1/Denys Cowan and Prentis Rollins)
Bruce joins Debra on her rounds investigating abuse cases. As Batman, he also discusses with Debra the intersectionalism between child abuse and crime. The story doesn’t shy from exposing ugly truths about child abuse. It shows incest, physical abuse, and one panel features an infant covered in bandages from third-degree burns. The story also clarifies abuse leaves scars manifesting through long-term effects, with mentions of depression, self-harm, and suicide. Debra and Batman’s discussions bring up topics I personally feel are relevant to Endangered Bodies in the truth they analyze about abuse and its effects on the bodies and life experiences of survivors.
Poverty doesn’t create criminals: Being jobless or homeless might be a factor in abuse, but not the sole cause. A person’s as likely to commit rape or crime while poor as much if they were a millionaire. Abuse isn’t categorized or limited by social class.
“Sick” isn’t “Sickening”: In their first discussion, Debra explains to Bruce he’s got the two mixed up regarding an incest case. Bruce described a man raping his daughter as “sick” while Debra explains people like that hurt children for pleasure. The man who raped his daughter loves her like he’d love a steak, for the pleasure of devouring it. People who commit incest, especially on children, are not “sick.” To use the word “sick” creates sympathy towards abusers when they are unapologetic for their actions. It reflects poorly on survivors because their grief is ignored for that of their abusers.
Love isn’t part of abuse: For survivors this is important because often love is used as an excuse for how others hurt them, can affect their perception of love for the worse, and they might abuse others thinking they’re showing love. Explaining abuse is done for physical pleasure alone takes love out of the equation and can lead to healthier explorations of demonstrations of love, while making it easier for survivors to receive love by being able to recognize it without the false conceptions their respective traumas have left them with.
Abuse victims don’t automatically become abusers: Just because someone was abused when they were young doesn’t mean they’ll become abusers someday. Child abuse is a factor in criminal behavior, but it’s not as black and white as some think. An incest victim can become promiscuous or sex-repulsed as an adult but neither is guaranteed. How abuse victims develop depends on how their abuse is addressed, especially when they’re young. People are not born “bad.” There’s no “bad seed.”
Abuse isn’t an excuse: Abuse victims aren’t “allowed” to become abusers. Victims aren’t justified if they become a serial killer, rapist, or child abuser just because they were similarly abused. Excusing a serial killer because they were abused as a child is an insult to the victims who suffered worse but never imitated their abusers.
(Ultimate Evil #1/Art by Cowan and Rollins)
Debra’s points feel valid to me as a sexual abuse survivor because they act as reminders of my agency with my body, and hopefully how others feel regarding their agencies as survivors and human beings.
Criminalized incest and sexual abuse don’t happen because of race, gender, or socio-economic class. What’s done to abuse victims is not done from a place of love. Abuse’s effects can be long term in the physical and mental sense, and showing sympathy to abusers undermines the healing process for victims by making them feel as though their trauma means nothing, and can negatively affect their perceptions of their bodies and love as badly as the abuse itself has done. As an abuse survivor, you aren’t destined to become like your abuser, nor are you justified or allowed to abuse someone because of what happened to you. If someone loves you, they wouldn’t hurt you.