For seven seasons, Once Upon a Time has grouped together packs of fairytale characters and allowed us to catch a glimpse of how they interact, solve problems, and slay monsters (both real and internal ones). We have seen characters find love, experience heartbreak, deal with self-doubt, find and lose their magic, and literally kill dragons. And when dealing with magic, Once Upon a Time has showed us that some villains put on disguises to get something out of another character that they wouldn’t otherwise get if they looked like themselves.
This is where OUAT‘s problem with consent begins.
There have been three times by my count (there could be more) where a character has disguised themselves and then went on to have sex with someone who didn’t know they were not who they appeared to be. These encounters reveal that Once Upon a Time has a clear problem with informed sexual consent.
The first occurrence took place in Season 1 with Regina (The Evil Queen) and Graham (The Huntsman). Storybrooke was under a curse and no one but Regina (and maybe Rumple) knew the characters’ true identities. Graham, on the other hand, thought he was a small-town sheriff and that Regina was the mayor of Storybrooke. They had a sexual relationship. Under normal circumstances, all of this would be fine. (It would make an interesting storyline, even.) However, Graham would not have consented to this relationship if he was not under a curse.
Now, I am not saying that this kind of situation shouldn’t be represented on television. It should. It may help people who have experienced non-consensual sexual encounters feel less alone. But, on the episode, this incident was swept under the rug. It was never brought up again. Instead, Graham comes out from under the curse and is then killed by Regina out of jealousy of Emma and Graham’s relationship. End of story. The rape (or, at the very least, the deception) is never addressed.
The next occurrence happens in Season 4 between Robin Hood and Zelena (Wicked Witch of the West). Unknown to everyone, when Emma and Hook brought Marian back from the Enchanted Forest of the past, it was actually Zelena in disguise. “Marian” is eventually given a freezing spell by the Ice Queen and then must leave for the World Without Magic in order to survive. Robin decides to go with her so that she will not be in an unknown world alone.
Eventually, Regina and Emma find out Zelena is impersonating Marian and they go to New York to find them. When they are reunited with Robin, they see that Marian is pregnant. Zelena then reveals herself, showing Marian was never there at all. While many of the characters are horrified (Robin and Regina especially), Robin’s feelings are not dealt with. The aftermath of this revelation is never addressed. Yes, Zelena has the baby and little Robin is taken care of, but then Robin is killed by Zeus and the after effects of the sexual assault are, again, swept under the rug.
The most recent occurrence took place in Season 7. Wish!Hook is looking for his daughter in the Enchanted Forest. He comes across a tower where he has been told a witch lives who can help him find her. He finds Rapunzel instead and is told he must locate a special flower in order to find his daughter. Rapunzel pleads with him to also help her escape her tower and he promises, once he finds the magic flower, he will come back to rescue her.
True to his word, Hook comes back with the flower and then Rapunzel and Hook get intimate (This all happens off screen. This is ABC at 8pm, after all). The next morning, Rapunzel reveals herself to be Mother Gothel in disguise and… guess what? She also magically had a baby overnight so it could take her place in the tower. Hook is horrified, but stays with the little girl he names Alice (after his mother) and Mother Gothel escapes. Now, we don’t know what is to come in the next few episodes, but based on the show’s track record, this sexual deception will not be addressed again. We will see Hook adorably taking care of his daughter and then likely dealing with how they eventually become separated, but the aftermath of the rape will not be addressed.
You may have noticed that all of the victims (or “survivors,” depending on which word you prefer) are men. Male rape is a very important issue and one that should be shown in our media, whether it be covered in the news or shown on a fictional television show. The way the OUAT writers are choosing to address the issue is less than ideal. It gives the impression that the sexual assault of men is not something worth getting into, not something to explore the aftermath of — that it is simply a plot device to advance the storyline.
I don’t want to believe this about the writers of my favorite show, but they keep writing it into their scripts. Even after fans have brought it up many times, it continues to occur. This reveals a lack of accountability on the OUAT writers’ behalves, not to mention a lack of originality — showing sexual assault without the aftermath is harmful to people watching without such a critical eye.
Male rape is already not taken seriously by our society. Why do we need a fairytale show to give off that same toxicity? And especially in the times we are living in? I really wish the OUAT writers would address this problem with the seriousness it deserves. They have a major consent issue and are repeat offenders. Show as much heartache and despair as you want, but give the characters and the audience the respect they deserve and show what the aftermath of these events really looks like. The Once Upon a Time writers have created some beautiful stories, so I know they can do it. It’s just a matter of if they want to.