Handle on Scandal, How a TV Show Deals with Sexual Assault, Part 2
By Kristine Ives, CCASA Blogger
In a recent episode of Scandal entitled, “We Do Not Touch the First Ladies,” the effects of Mellie Grant’s sexual assault in episode 7, “Everything is Coming Up Mellie,” are further evaluated. The episode is again presented in a series of flashbacks where we see the emotional and interpersonal effects of the assault on Mellie as an individual.
Early in the episode there is a flashback to President Fitzgerald “Fitz” Grant yelling at Mellie for being unwilling to attend a dinner party honoring her father-in-law, who was also her perpetrator. He reflects that Mellie and his father used to be very close and he does not understand why she now appears unable to be in the same room as him. Fitz moves on to point out that she won’t let him touch her or sleep with her anymore and rather than express any concern when she flinches in response to him trying touch the side of her face, he screams, “What the hell is wrong with you?” as she walks out of the door, distraught.
Later in the episode, it is revealed that Mellie attempted suicide and was found by the lieutenant governor that is now being considered for the Vice President position in Fitz’s next campaign. Andrew forced Mellie to vomit the pills and stayed up all night monitoring her rather than involve paramedics. After he asks her what led to the attempt, she tries to avoid the question then matter-of-factly says that her father-in-law forced himself on her and now she does not know who the father of her son is.
The reason this is all coming to light now is that someone is asserting that there was an issue with prescription painkillers in the office and Andrew comes forward claiming responsibility. Mellie later asks him why he is risking his career for her, and he replies that someone needs to stand up for her and be on her side and they both know it will not be her husband. It is disclosed that he has been interested in her since the overdose but they never had an affair. His protective nature is illustrated and it seems to possibly have a healing and validating effect on Mellie as she sees someone supporting her.
All of these responses are very common in survivors. According to RAINN, victims of sexual assault are 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide than the general population. They often live in shame of the experience, which may lead to hiding what happened. As a clinician, many of my clients that experienced sexual trauma initially chose not to talk about what happened and only addressed it when avoidance no longer worked. It is also very common for partners to not know how to handle the changes they see in the survivor and the effects on intimacy can have an exceptional impact. The most difficult aspect of this situation for me is Fitz’s lack of concern for the changes he witnesses in his wife and rather focuses on the effects on him and his career. One of the biggest indicators of healing from sexual trauma is being believed and supported when first disclosing. Mellie appears to be in a relationship where she does not feel safe to share what occurred and this results in feelings of isolation. I hope this is further evaluated in future episodes to see if she is able to lean on Andrew or anyone else for support since the assault occurred. I have a tendency to get a little too emotionally involved in television shows and feel an investment in Mellie’s on-going healing. Hopefully, we get more insight into her character both in general and from the perspective of her assault.