For Those Who Watch American Horror Story, Don’t Call it Incest. It is abuse.
Please note: The following conversation will contain spoilers for American Horror Story. Consider yourself warned. Also, this is a very sensitive discussion so there may be trigger warnings. Click to continue.
I broke up with American Horror Story in the first season. It is, in fact, too much for me. But I find the main actress, Taissa Farminga, to be incredibly compelling, as is her counterpart, Evan Peters. So last season, I avoided watching it entirely and just read the recaps the next morning. It felt safer.
This year I thought I would give it another try, partly because it always debuts at the right time of year and you know, it’s Halloween, of course there should be witches.
In the season premiere, there was a very disturbing scene in which one of the witches, played by Emma Roberts, is gang raped by a multitude of frat boys at a party. She is drugged, and they each rape her, one after another. It was so disturbing to watch, I changed the channel and once again swore of the show. The thing is, they made it very clear that it was rape. There was no question. And this portrayal, deeply disturbing to watch, did what it was supposed to do – it showed the violence and horror that is rape.
Jump forward to last night. Evan Peters character has been brought back to life in a version of Frankenstein with a resurrection spell. And he returns home where he is sexually abused by his mother. There were several things that seemed very clear in the way the scene was shot:
1. This abuse had been going on for a while, probably since he was a younger child. Perhaps when he was 4 as alluded to in the conversation with his mother.
2. The incident was so damaging to him. When Peters turns his head to the side and begins to cry, the affects of this abuse are so poignantly demonstrated. Although it was horrific to watch, Peters did victims everywhere honor with his poignant portrayal; I really felt he helped those watching to understand how incredibly horrific abuse is.
And yet, a curious thing happened. Last night on the message boards people were talking about the “incest scene” on AHS. DO NOT CALL THIS INCEST. This is straight up sexual abuse and it is a violence perpetrated by one individual against another. This is not a boy in love with his mother, this is a boy being abused by his mother. Violated. It is an act of violence against him.
Incest is what we read in Flowers in the Attic by V. C. Andrews, where family members closely related fall in love with each other. They both tend to be willing participants. If either participant is unwilling, non consenting, it is straight up abuse. It is a violence done to them.
So why were they calling it incest? Perhaps it is because we often don’t believe that a woman can sexually abuse a man. But they can and it happens. 1 in 5 boys are victims of some type of sexual violence by the time they reach the age 18. Although a majority of these crimes are done by men, upwards of 90%, women can and do abuse (more stats here). This cultural denial we perpetuate is the reason why people like Chris Brown will boast about losing his virginity at the age of 8 instead of recognizing that he was raped by his 15 year old babysitter. It is part of the reason why young boys who “fall in love” with their female teachers and have sexual relations are patted on the back while male teachers who do the same with teenage girls are sent to prison. It is part of the reason why broken and violated young men don’t come forward and get the help that they need.
Boys can be and are sexually abused. Sometimes by women. We must call it what it is. What happened last night in American Horror Story wasn’t incest, and we harm victims everywhere when we mislabel the violence they suffer. By giving the right words to the crime, me dis-empower those who would commit these acts and we empower the victims to break their silence and come forward. Words have meaning, and using the right words is powerful. Don’t call it incest – it was abuse.
Another case where it is called Incest when it is not: Flawed by Kate Avelynn
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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