A Media Literacy Series
Unplugged is a blog series by the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault that critically observes, analyzes, and deconstructs various forms of media through the lens of our Media Literacy curriculum. It is important to note that everyone sees media differently, and our analyses are just one examination of many.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS BLOG POST.
Jessica Jones was released as a Netflix exclusive series in 2015 and is based off of the comic book series Alias. Ms. Jones is a self-employed private investigator who also happens to possess superhuman strength and abilities. As the plot unfolds, viewers discover that the key villain in the show, Zebediah Kilgrave, also has a superhuman power: the ability to control people’s minds and actions.
Viewers discover Kilgrave had his sights set on Jessica and took her hostage for a period of time by using his mind control powers. She managed to escape, but he continued to stalk and torture her in subtle ways. Flashbacks and conversations she has with Kilgrave reveal that he had sexually assaulted her during the course of her abduction (specifically, controlling her body and mind to have sex with him).
When she first confronts him with this information, he is taken aback and immediately retorts, citing his generosity for taking her to five-star hotels and fancy restaurants, and claims he didn’t realize what he was doing was considered rape.
Despite the grim topics and dark nature of Jessica Jones, the show gives us an opportunity to continue conversations about sexual violence and societal myths.
- All survivors respond differently. Throughout the season, we see Jessica experiencing the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but also ways she copes with her assault. As advocates, we can recognize that every survivor responds and copes differently, and Jessica is no exception.
- Perpetrators and abusers can fit many descriptions. Kilgrave mentioned that he took Jessica to five-star hotels and fancy restaurants. When we think about stereotypes of abusers, Kilgrave would not fit the ticket. Jessica Jones does a great job of creating an extremely complex villain who attempts to gain audience sympathy many times, while still highlighting the manipulative and abusive actions he commits. For those of us involved in the sexual violence field, we know perpetrators all look and act different, and Kilgrave is no exception. The fact that he is represented in this way could be seen as a step in the right direction—if the media begins to portray sexual violence in accurate ways, myths could start to be dismantled, ultimately having a positive effect on the struggle to end rape culture.
- Survivors don’t always report their assault to authorities. We often hear victim-blaming questions along the lines of, “Why didn’t they report it?” “Why didn’t they go to the police?” In the show, Jessica explains many times that no one would believe her if she came forward. While she is specifically talking about Kilgrave’s mind control and the lack of belief that such a power could exist, we can understand that this is a similar sentiment that some survivors may have about reporting. While it is ultimately up to the survivor, we can strive to make our culture a safer, more respectful place where victims are believed and supported.
Despite the superhero coating, Jessica Jones provides us with a different, more accurate lens through which to view sexual violence in all its nuances. While media can sometimes make it difficult to have real conversations about important issues, we can celebrate Jessica Jones for a multitude of reasons, including the realistic depiction of sexual violence and its contribution to dispelling the myths around sexual assault.
Sarah Bear is the Training & Outreach Coordinator for NJCASA. She is responsible for coordinating NJCASA’s Training Institute, providing outreach at events, and managing the agency’s social media presence. She is passionate about media literacy and using all forms of media as a tool to dismantle rape culture.