General Hospital: Rape As A Plot Device Must Stop

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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.

About The Author

Mandy Treccia has served as TVSource Magazine’s Editorial Director since 2012. She is an avid TV watcher and card carrying fan girl prone to sudden bursts of emotion, ranging from extreme excitement to blind rage during her favorite shows and has on more than once occasion considered having a paper bag on hand to get her through some tough TV moments. Her taste in TV tends to rival that of a thirteen-year-old girl, but she’s okay with that. Follow her on Twitter at @SourceMandy.

  • http://tvsourcemagazine.com/ TVSource

    You made a very good point Casey. Thank you so much for your response. We need more commenters like you on the site.

  • lexi

    Glad someone spoke up and said something. If the writers would do just what you said and give us the audience a real story of survival. I think it would be powerful and awesome. Thanks for having the guts to say something maybe the writers read this and rethink their story lines.

  • http://twitter.com/Casathious Casey Costello

    I apologize if my comments were misconstrued; first, please let me say that I think this is an excellent article, and certainly, the author makes several salient points on a topic worthy of discussion. I myself take issue with the frequent and sensationalistic use of rape (and death of children, but that is a whole separate article…) on GH, and I wholeheartedly agree that rape is not an issue that should be employed solely as a catalyst to propel a particular story or character forward.

    At the same time, however, I must respectfully disagree with your contention that “Not once did Mandy assume the story would be handled insensitively.” If I may draw your attention to the last line of paragraph three, where the author says “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.” Indeed, if this is not an assumption that the current storyline will be handled insensitively, I don’t know would be.

    And again, I would encourage all viewers to be wary of making such assumptions–especially if it might compel them to stop watching—because this is a show that has weathered numerous different executive producers over the years, and equally as many, if not more, writing teams. And, while each new production team inherits the history created by the prior teams, being new to the show’s canvas, the viewers should also grant them the benefit of a blank slate.

    Stated simply, I would just like to see the current storyline with Kate Howard’s rape play out for a while before we start lamenting Kate’s rape storyline as merely the latest in a long line of such stories used by GH purely as plot devices. Give the new writing/production team a chance to show us what they have in store. Remember, too, that Ron Carlivati, who had been writing in some capacity for OLTL since 1996, has considerable experience at writing (what I consider) multi-dimensional, compelling stories regarding rape and sexual abuse.

    One story on OLTL that Carlivati helped pen, similar to Kate’s story on GH right now, was when Jessica was revealed to have DID. The show spent considerable time investigating the root cause of her disease, culminating with Viki and Clint discovering tapes of Jessica being raped as a little girl (which occurred while Viki’s alter Niki Smith had taken Jessica to bars, leaving her unattended). This affected the entire family in a profound way. Certainly, the show spent some time examining Viki’s guilt over her role in Jessica’s rape and subsequent illness, but Jessica herself spent considerable time processing what had happened to her for years to come, in therapy and otherwise, and I felt that the story was, for the most part, well-written. I’m not saying that the storyline did not help further future stories; however, I did feel that the story was, at least, handled sensitively. And that is my hope for Kate’s storyline, and for any subsequent stories involving rape, on GH: that they tell a good story, and tell it in a respectful way.

  • SamMccallFan

    Wow! REALLY? Yeah Sam made mistakes, but thar is npt what thos article is about. It is about GH letting people know that thwre is help out there if they have been hurt and GH making the story aboutthe victim. We understand your not a Sam fan, but dang can you blame the victim anymore for past deeds. Liz has allowed Sam to watch Jake after everything that happened why?. It’s called forgiveness, something you don’t have a lot of.

  • Erika

    Thank YOU for pointing these two incidents out. Thank you, I’ve been ripping my hair frustrated that it wasn’t addressed. Great article. If a soap is gonna use rape in the plot, they should at least do it realistically and not treat their audiences like they’re stupid.

    Daniel and Billy were both roofied and drugged by crazy ass women and nobody on this damn show does nothing to address it. Like, it’s not seduction. It’s not flirtation. Having sex with someone against their will, or when they are not consciously aware, is not SEDUCTION. There’s a dictionary which defines that as RAPE. I just started watching GH after Robin’s death and as much as I love Jason&Sam together, already, he’s been a douchebag through this entire ordeal. Sam was the one who was raped by Franco, yet Sam is the one apologizing to Jason and acting like she has to tread carefully, because he can’t get over himself. Yes, poor Jason. A bruised ego is really damaging. Ugh. And what’s sad is that Jason giving Sam hell was for nothing because the baby ISN’T Franco’s.

    I hope, really hope that Jason&Sam come together to go get their baby boy from Tea, but for now, I’m Team Sam! Always. Once again, great article. This needed to be said and I’m glad as hell that someone finally did.

    -Erika

  • http://tvsourcemagazine.com/ TVSource

    The author wasn’t blaming Ron and Frank, but rather calling attention to the overall issue with GH’s frequent storylines involving rape. Not once did Mandy assume the story would be handled insensitively. Instead she stated it was the responsibility of Ron and Frank to handle the story with care and not repeat the mistakes of previous regimes.

  • Alex

    fantastic article! dead on

  • http://twitter.com/Casathious Casey Costello

    While GH may have a long history of employing rape as a plot device, Frank Valentini and Ron Carlivati cannot be blamed for any story written before their arrival. The Kate Howard rape story is the only one that has been devised entirely by the Carlivati/Valentini team, and personally, I think it is premature to assume that the story will be handled insensitively. Neither Viki’s nor Jessica’s sexual abuse on OLTL was used merely as a “plot device,” in my opinion. Their characters were deeply impacted by these atrocities, the ramifications of which would continue for years (decades, in Viki’s case). I don’t think rape should ever be handled lightly, but I do think it is unfair for the author of this article to presume that it will be simply due to the stories written by prior regimes on the show over the past 49 years.

  • Sandra

    This is an excellent article and I love the way you pointed out how the rape in these instances hasn’t been about the victim, the way it should have been. When Sam apologized to Jason I nearly threw up.
    Great article! Thanks for telling it like it is with GH right now.

  • http://twitter.com/imgoodbackup Cj

    I agree. I was also upset that there was no PSA with Kelly Monaco addressing the issue of rape, but seriously I mean what NPO would support the message this show is sending about the handling of rape victims? The only thing any NPO could say about it is, this is how NOT to treat the vic. -and I credit that last line to Bella Mafia: The Beauty of GH blog on wordpress.

  • http://twitter.com/imgoodbackup Cj

    Thank you. You just brilliantly articulated everything I’ve been feeling about the way General Hospital has handled not only the issue of rape, but also teen domestic violence and the continual subjugation of female characters in general. The only addition I would make would be the way they glossed over Kate’s DID rape as nothing more than a one night stand. Johnny knew Kate would have said no if she were able and he slept with her anyway. That, by definition, makes him a rapist just as they had the character Carly point out. Yet, that was the last we heard of it. All has been forgiven and taken as nothing more than a betrayal to their significant others. More importance was placed on whether Carly could forgive her lover Johnny for sleeping with Kate than the actual victim, KATE, coming to terms with the fact that she WAS actually raped -again as we recently learned.

    It’s disgusting and I’m not the only one who thinks so. My timeline is filled daily with people as appalled by this as me. Many faithful fans I live-tweeted with daily have tuned out altogether and no longer even watch the show due to the months and months of doom and gloom and disrespectful handling of the true victims in their stories. It leads me to wonder if this is not the writer’s intention since ABC has made no secret of wanting out of the soap business.

    I love General Hospital. I’ve been a faithful daily viewer for more than a decade. I know it is a drama with the prime intention of entertaining its viewers and you can’t make every fan happy all the time, but when writers take on delicate issues such as rape and HIV they also take on an inherent responsibility to handle those issues with care.

    The powers that be at ABC and General Hospital have made their position on rape and abuse victims adamantly clear by using such a heinous act as no more than a stepping stone for a contrived plot point to make us feel for EVERY character EXCEPT the actual victim. Worse, the head writers have even used their power to turn the true victims into the bad guy, or bad woman as the case is more often than not.

    I say again, I love General Hospital. It is the only remaining soap I watch and I would never call for it to be cancelled or wish it so. I, too, believe the cast has given us stellar performances with the shoddy material they have been given. My words are in no way a criticism of the actor’s and actress’ work, but of the writing. I say these things, one, because they are true and, second, because I know the writers at General Hospital are capable of far better and truly hope they hear our voices to live up to their potential.

    I implore all fans to MAKE your voices heard. Let them know this behavior is unacceptable. People aspire to the standards you set. Don’t belittle yourself or others by accepting anything less than a humane depiction of those who suffer such a horrible tragedy. It is a sad state of affairs for us all as human beings if we can make enough noise to get Rebecca Herbst back on air while allowing something far more tragic to continue with little to no resistance.

    PS: I tweeted the link to this article to Ron Carlivati, Frank Valentini and General Hospital as did several others. I really hope they see it and, more importantly, take it to heart.

  • http://twitter.com/Taeguu Solonge Venable

    Why in the hell do every woman on GH have to be raped. These writers are so morbit. A soap don’t have to be morbit and women being raped. One woman was raped when she was young and hated the baby. One woman was raped on her honeymoon,and made to believe her baby was the rapiest, and her hubby couldn’t stand to be around her.One woman will probably try to find her child, and by the time the other find that her baby was snatch he will be a damn grow man. Lighten the hell up GH.

  • Rhonda47

    Is she a narcissist when she begs to go back to Lucky who has showcased a pattern of abusive behavior which she continually completely blames on drugs? Or blames herself for her child’s death when he was hit by a drunk driver. Logic would say she has low self esteem. Lucky if anything has continually held the rape over head saying he would always love the girl he found in the snow and referring to himself as the one who saved her, when he in fact was apart of a larger support group and she sought out and went through therapy on her own. Why hasn’t she ever referred to herself as her own savior though that was the case?

  • Fan of GH

    It’s about freaking time! Why can’t GH do Public Service Announcements about RAPE and where some poor girl or boy can get help. Clearly GH is mocking RAPE!!!

  • Conflicts king

    Agree. That’s the ickiest of them all.

  • Conflicts king

    (part 1 is below)
    Where the cop is staying and doesn’t leave because she knows the imagery of her at a sad motel (where she isn’t even upset as she claims to be, IMO) with the cop with not only guilt Jason into doing what she wants, but likely cause him to blow up. After all, she supposedly understands him better than anyone. She was just as much to blame for everything that happened AFTER she lied about the paternity test -if not more so – because it was about saving her own hide when she goes her husband a reminder of what a lying shrew she is. This is the same woman who watched and stayed silent for days when his son with another woman was kidnapped, and then later hired gunmen to terrorize the boy, his family, to keep Jason away from Liz. And she’s blaming him for not knowing her baby would be premature and doing what does as the MOB HITMAN she married? Give me a break. No one deserves to be raped (and we don’t even know she was), but there are also other victims, like Jason – who watched helplessly, and is now conflicted about how he’ll feel.  is he not entitled to grief? He lost two sons in under a year and is the most caring guy on the show and she doesn’t deserve him. He was wonderful to her after Franco. She screwed it up by not trusting him. 

  • Conflicts king

    (part 2)
    Where the cop is staying and doesn’t leave because she knows the imagery of her at a sad motel (where she isn’t even upset as she claims to be, IMO) with the cop with not only guilt Jason into doing what she wants, but likely cause him to blow up. After all, she supposedly understands him better than anyone. She was just as much to blame for everything that happened AFTER she lied about the paternity test -if not more so – because it was about saving her own hide when she goes her husband a reminder of what a lying shrew she is. This is the same woman who watched and stayed silent for days when his son with another woman was kidnapped, and then later hired gunmen to terrorize the boy, his family, to keep Jason away from Liz. And she’s blaming him for not knowing her baby would be premature and doing what does as the MOB HITMAN she married? Give me a break. No one deserves to be raped (and we don’t even know she was), but there are also other victims, like Jason – who watched helplessly, and is now conflicted about how he’ll feel.  is he not entitled to grief? He lost two sons in under a year and is the most caring guy on the show and she doesn’t deserve him. He was wonderful to her after Franco. She screwed it up by not trusting him. 

  • Conflicts king

    This is a joke, yes? Sam was treated like GOLD by Jason after the alleged rape. It was when she stared lying to him about EVERYTHING, including that he wasn’t the father, but his psycho brother he didn’t know he had, who he murdered FOR HER after years of being traumatized by him as much if not more than her. She told things he didn’t even know to a cop trying to put her husband in jail (basically helping him). She finally comes clean when BUSTED for her lies and reverts to regular old manipulative, calculating Sam, who apologizes and accuses him of looking at her like she’s tainted (which those of us who don’t wear Sam-colored glasses know is BS. He even assured her it wasnt the case. She gave him 24 hrs and 1 conversation to decide to love the baby (only option in her book) and when he was honest about struggling with it and not wanting to inflict that on the baby, she ran off to a shoddy motel (despite being hella rich a d having a family nearby)

  • samfan

    Amen! You wrote exactly what I was thinking. We as fans have been saying the same thing to Ron Carlivati and Frank Valenti ever since Sam was raped and our voices have been ignored. Maybe they will read and learn from you. Thank you for your excellent work and support of our GH characters (and actors). I love GH and I want to see it survive as a daytime soap.

  • Beth CP

    Excellent article. I really would like to see someone (anyone), in the soap press ask Ron Carlivati and Frank Valentini why they believe they need to go this route. They have already done variations of the same story on OLTL. From what I’ve observed, the majority of reactions has not been positive. Why would they think these storyline directions being taken would benefit GH, especially since their stated goal is to have this drama continue on into it’s fiftieth year. Unless the suits at ABC Daytime want material that, in the end, results in GH being canceled because loyal fans simply can’t stomach what is being “forced” on them.

  • nananes

    Great article…hope someone sends a link to Frank Valentini and Ron Carlivati at GH.

  • Lara

    Wonderful article. I just posted something similar on the ABC comments page. As a woman and a physician I’ve seen way to many victims demoralized by their rape. It’s incrediblely callous to keep writing these storylines which in itself are difficult, but to then constantly throw the victims under the bus or cast them aside!! I’m also really upset that in the wake of Sam’s rape that they did not have a PSA at the end. Now Kate’s attack has been revealed and still nothing! Soaps have always been a platform for showcasing social issues and in this they’ve failed. It’s highly irresponsible for them to be writing these stories for storyline’s sake and not taking the time to address that it’s an actual and constant problem.

  • jenn

    Thank you.

  • Linda

    Really great article. It’s the same on Y&R, Daniel and Billy were drugged and sexually assualted by women yet it was glossed over.

  • soapdeadzone

    i hope with Johnny and Lulu working together at a nightclub that the writers don’t try the Luke and Laura plot with Johnny losing his mind he might think they are still together and god help him if he touches Starr we know he is leaving but who and how?

  • Jess

    Interesting take on things. I also think Johnny/Connie should’ve been included at least as a gray area/debatable. It’s my personal opinion it was rape since Kate had told Johnny to stay away from her and reacted with physical violence upon “waking” up in the middle of a kiss Connie shared with him. He knew she didn’t want it but it was more convenient for him to ignore her wishes so he could further his vendetta against Sonny. Again this is just my take on things.

    Also Carly spent some time thinking she was a rape victim at one point. Ric had drugged her and made her think they had sex while she was drunk. Turns out they hadn’t slept together but for a while she thought she was raped.

  • http://twitter.com/The22PeggySue Sherrick W.

    I think them constantly playing up the Sonny/Carly ‘connection’ and not focusing on them is what killed them. Not to mention, they never truly liked portraying Jax as anything more than someone who hates Sonny; towards the end.

  • Meagan

    I feel like that
    was the beginning of the end of Jasper Jax. I miss him.

  • http://twitter.com/The22PeggySue Sherrick W.

    They did. It was more of him having sex with another woman rather than the fact he was chained to the bed and held against his will to have sex with her. Then, they never talked about it.

  • Meagan

    That story pissed me off cause if I remember correctly the show never actually said he was raped, it was always that he cheated on Carly.

  • http://twitter.com/Rowaenthe Angela Rynan Durrell

    The other problem I have with Liz’s rape is that they never allowed her to grow afterwards; she’s essentially still at the same emotional maturity level she was at the time of the assault. I wish they had explored that arrested development and fallout, and shown what an terribly difficult process that is, and eventually seen her come out the other side as a fully formed woman. But that hasn’t happened. She has never really addressed her sexual issues and the trauma she had to endure; look at how she treats relationships and sex in particular.

    If not that, if not allow Liz to mature, then at least allow her to become a full-blown narcissist, because I have since seen Liz herself use her rape as a device to manipulate another in order to get what she wants. (I’m referring to the scene where she, Lucky, and Nik tell Rebecca the story – and Liz does it to stave Rebecca off telling Lucky about the affair with Nikolas.) Eventually the trauma would catch up with her, but she’d make an amazing antagonist with this underlying vulnerability that we all know is there, but which she cannot address.

  • http://twitter.com/The22PeggySue Sherrick W.

    You can also say that Jax’s rape storyline was forgotten and mishandled. If you weren’t watching around the time, you wouldn’t even know that it existed.

  • Meagan

    Great column. I hope Ron and Frank see it because I have been disgusted in recent years by rape stories being about the man’s feelings rather than the victim. I have never been raped but as a woman, watching Sam’s rape story be about Jason and his pathetic feelings felt like a slap in the face. I have always been a Jason fan but he has disgusted me and I literally cheered when Sam finally went off on him the other day. Finally it was about her! I hope this trend ends soon. Again, great column.

  • http://twitter.com/SaveOurSuds SaveOurSuds

    Good article. I think there really hasn’t been a thoughtful storyline about rape on a soap since the ‘90s. Marty’s story on OLTL as well as Liz’s story on GH both had a lot of impact and showed of cruel this crime can be. Sam’s story did take a major shift recently when she finally let Jason have it for his behavior towards her. I hope this is a good sign.

  • Barbara_Darlin

    This is too convenient a plot point which they keep going back to. Now Sonny will be vindicated for how he dealt with Joe Scully. Whenever they want to make someone a hero, a woman needs to be the rape victim.

  • SourceMandy

    I did. I knew there was a recent story I was forgetting. That was another one that was completely mishandled.

  • http://twitter.com/enriquevbjr Enrique Buenrostro

    You forgot about the storyline of Michael’s prison rape…