Anyone who has ever watched soap operas, or who has even heard of them, knows there are certain storylines that are basically staples for soapy goodness (or repetitive nonsense based on how good the writing is). People come back from the dead, fully-grown children who the parents didn’t know existed show up out of the blue, mothers and daughters sleep with each other’s husbands. If a woman has sex with two men in a short amount of time, there’s a ‘who’s the daddy?’ storyline coming. But lately it seems that General Hospital has found another go-to plot device: rape.
On the Thursday, June 14 episode, Kate Howard, also known as Connie Falconeri, revealed in a therapy session that she had been raped as a teenager by Joe Scully, an enemy of her then (and current) boyfriend, mobster Sonny Corinthos. The rape resulted in a pregnancy and instead of telling Sonny about it, Kate (Connie at the time) ran away and ended their teenage relationship. Since Kate has been suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) on the show and it is a medical fact that sexual trauma or abuse is one of the triggers of the disorder, the reveal wasn’t that shocking; most viewers saw it coming the second Kate started talking to “Connie” in the mirror. But what is disturbing is that this is the second rape storyline GH has tackled in less than a year.
Sam McCall-Morgan was raped by her husband’s psychotic twin brother while they were on their honeymoon. Like Kate, Sam found out she was pregnant and believed the baby to be a result of the rape. (Her husband is actually the father; someone switched the paternity results, but the characters don’t know that yet). Sam’s rape was not about her or the pain she went through. It was about Jason’s pain and how he was going to be forced to raise a child that wasn’t his. Sam actually apologized to Jason at one point for putting him through this. Yes, you read that right. The rape victim apologized to her poor husband (a hitman for the mob) because she was raped as part of his brother’s vendetta against him. I have no doubt that even with her DID, Kate’s rape storyline will become all about Sonny as well and how much it hurt him that she left him after his enemy attacked her.
These are the two most recent examples of rape as a plot device on GH, but they are far from the only ones. It was revealed (after she’d died) that Claudia Zacchara had been prostituted out to her father’s business associates when she was a teenager. That storyline was just a plot to reveal that Claudia was actually Johnny’s mother, not his sister and then viewers got to see the fallout from his pain. Lulu was nearly raped when she was working undercover. The point of that was to show that Lulu made stupid decisions and she should have listened to her boyfriend, who told her not to get involved in her father’s business. Maxie was nearly raped by Logan because he was mad at her for ‘being a slut’ and coming between him and Lulu. Emily was raped by her husband’s lookalike and then he cheated on her because she was taking too long to get over it.
But it’s not just the women of Port Charles who have been the victims of sexual assault in recent years. Jasper Jax was held hostage by a crazy woman, who forced him to have sex with her and when his wife found out about the attack, not only did she accuse him of cheating, she laughed at him. He was mocked for being a victim because he was a man; it didn’t matter that he had no control and his life was on the line. Then there was Michael Corinthos, a teenage boy sent to prison for an act of self-defense that his family covered up instead of letting the truth come out. Michael was raped his first night in prison. (This was also arranged by Jason’s psycho brother to hurt him). It was months before the show acknowledged what had happened to Michael and once again, it wasn’t about him. It was about Jason and Sonny and Dante and how guilty they felt and the blame they held for what had happened to Michael.
The frightening pattern is not the frequency of how often this plot device is used. It’s the fact that in the storylines, rape or attempted rape, is never about the victim and how she or he deals with it. The attack is just a jumping off point to start a new story or move a story along or worse, it’s about blaming the victim or shaming him or her for bad behavior. This is not okay. Rape is one of the most horrifying things anyone can be subjected to and even in the twenty-first century, there is a stigma attached to it. Someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes in the U.S. and 54 percent of those assaults are never reported to the police. Out of all these characters, I think Emily was the only one who reported her attack and I might be wrong about that because it’s been awhile since that happened.
I think what makes this overused plot device even more insulting is the fact that I know the show is capable of telling the story the right way. Elizabeth was raped as a teenager in the park and the story was equally about how she dealt with it and how Lucky dealt with what happened to her. The storyline opened up Pandora’s Box for the Spencer family when Luke had to tell his son that he’d raped his mother all those years ago at the disco. It was an incredible story told from multiple perspectives and even now, over ten years later, I still remember every episode and the powerful writing and performances that told a very sad, but very realistic story.
Kelly Monaco (Sam) and Kelly Sullivan (Kate/Connie) have both put in fantastic, honest performances and I do not want to take anything away from either of them. But if the powers that be want to continue to use this plot device, they owe it to the audience, the characters, and anyone who has ever been a victim or known someone who was a victim of sexual assault, to follow through and tell a real story. Do not just sensationalize the trauma or worse, gloss over it and then move on like it never happened without giving the victim a chance to heal and work through it.
If the audience is going to be subjected to the bad stuff, we want to see the character prevail and overcome. That should be the message the writers should strive for. Don’t just give us the ugly and the tragic; give us the surviving and overcoming as well, even if it takes months. Otherwise, it’s time to retire this plot device once and for all.