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Meta: Too Deep for the Healing

Originally published on Tumblr after a failed attempt to publish on Reddit. Trigger warning: Sexual Assault.

So, did James commit sexual assault against Snape?

The opener is a trick question, because “sexual assault” is technically a term of art in law and in psychology. Wizards aren’t governed by any Muggle legal system and the Hogwarts library doesn’t carry the DSM. For that matter, wizards are also fictional and written by an author, so whether something falls under a technical definition from an entirely different semantic field (psychology and law… vs. YA fantasy literature) is meaningless.

With that said, in all fairness, if you apply the technical criteria, it definitely was sexual assault.

From the England and Wales Rape Crisis website:

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 says that someone commits sexual assault if all of the following happens:

  • They intentionally touch another person (James declared intent)

  • The touching is sexual (if the very act of using Levicorpus on Snape wasn’t sexual in itself, the threat that followed surely was)

  • The other person does not consent to the touching (no brainer)

  • They do not reasonably believe that the other person consents (no brainer and kind of the point)

  • The touching can be with any part of the body or with anything else (let’s say that if the British legislator had had the foresight to include wizards, they would have added “wand”)

Also from that website:

There are many other ‘tactics’ that someone might use to sexually assault someone. For example:

  • bullying

So there you are.

Sure, some people view this as “pantsing,” a cutesy way to refer to the (perplexing) act of surprisingly taking off a person’s pants. When I (F) was about 8, a classmate (M) opened the door to my bathroom stall in front of other kids to poke fun at me, and I gotta say it never registered and still doesn’t register as a sexual assault because we were literal children. Shitty, it might have been, but… meh. James wasn’t 8, or 10. I just can’t imagine anyone old enough to shave, who doesn’t have serious developmental issues, not understanding that genitals aren’t just “funny”. But if one insists on classifying it as “pantsing,” they should refer to the Wikipedia entry, which speaks of a 5-second long process, not the culmination* of a protracted affair. Also from Wikipedia: “The United States legal system has prosecuted it as a form of sexual harassment of children.”

*I hope it was the culmination: we don’t see if it went that far so we obviously can’t know if it might have gone even further.

So if one were to be fair while applying strict technical terms to James’s action (assuming he went through with it), one would have to cede the point. The term “sexual assault” might be emotionally charged, but going by objective definitions, it applies.

But of course it’s the emotional charge that matters here, because again, IT’S A BOOK. So I suppose there’s no escaping asking ourselves if James went through with his threat*. It’s more likely than not, since the scene could have easily ended with James being interrupted, or even saying “just kidding, I don’t want to make everyone cry, his face is ugly enough.” His furious expression and the fade-to-black suggest that he did. Also, to feature nudity in a YA novel (in which James is, after all, intended as a positive character) would have been literally impossible. The implication is heavy enough. And honestly, I really would like to know who watches a sitcom where the characters start kissing, discuss having sex, and get as naked as the censors would allow before the scene is cut… and needs help figuring out what’s going on here. For James to catch himself on time and not follow through might have been a very compelling way to start his redemption arc, but as we know, that took another year+.

*If he didn’t, it’s mere sexual harassment. But then, to turn the James defenders’ argument against them… it’s one memory out of his entire life. Who’s to say he wasn’t even worse on other occasions? After all, the title “Snape’s Worst Memory” is, in retrospect, about Lily - not the bullying, which was very clearly business as usual.

If Snape had been a girl, it would have been a no brainer. If James had been Snape’s victim, let’s be real, it would have been a no brainer too.

We know what happened had because what happened traumatized Snape… and Harry. Immediately after he saw it, Harry wondered if his dad might have somehow forced his mom to marry him. In HBP he is still unable to tell Ron and Hermione what he had seen in the Pensieve, and doesn’t even say anything when he remembers Snape had called Lily a mudblood. Even in DH, two years after he had seen the memory, he looks away rather than watch the scene unfold again (and the phrasing - “But Harry kept his distance this time, because he knew what happened after James had hoisted Severus into the air and taunted him; he knew what had been done and said” - is highly suggestive). Also, since it’s a book, here’s the traditional end-of-book canonical voice of the author explaining to us how we ought to feel:

“I trust Severus Snape,” said Dumbledore simply. “But I forgot — another old man’s mistake — that some wounds run too deep for the healing. I thought Professor Snape could overcome his feelings about your father — I was wrong.”

This is the same Dumbledore who had, a book earlier, expected Snape and Sirius to play nice, the same Dumbledore who can criticize a man who had just expired in front of his grieving godson, so if he says Snape could not overcome his feelings about James, he probably had good reason to.

We know Snape only bothered to hide very few memories in the Pensieve, presumably the highly volatile and top-secret ones, during the occlumency lessons. We know Snape was surprisingly okay with Harry infiltrating his embarrassing childhood memories, and it was only Harry viewing SWM that drove him over the edge, up to and including defying Dumbledore. We know that it was Harry’s attempt at Levicorpus that made Snape lose it during the HBP confrontation (and not Sectumsempra or even Crucio). In short, we know he’s traumatized. To insist that he’s not legitimately traumatized, but just bitter and petty about getting one-upped and defeated by James or whatever, is not only cruel but also exactly how people react to victims in real life. Minimization, victim-blaming, and denial. How damaging, to be a victim and see this shit, honestly.

Sure, you can interpret Snape as petty and bitter, and you would be right. But you gotta admit the hatred for James rivals all else. Easy - James got Lily*. It’s not Snape’s (valid) trauma, it’s his (incelly, entitled, invalid) jealousy. Except that Snape could have very easily attempted to use a love potion on Lily himself, or taken some measure - any measure - to alleviate his jealousy. And when others accuse him of jealousy, it’s never about Lily or romantic success in general - it’s about James’s Quidditch skills. JKR, however, supplements:

“James always suspected Snape harboured deeper feelings for Lily, which was a factor in James’ behaviour to Snape.“

Assuming she doesn’t mean “James thought Snape was morally in the wrong for having feelings for Lily,” the more viable interpretation was “James did not appreciate someone else having feelings for Lily.”

*Never mind that James got Lily long after Snape’s supposedly irrational hatred for James reared its head, so.

James intends the removal of Snape’s underpants as an escalation of the verbal and physical violence. What’s left, after that? Where do you escalate to, from physical violence? It’s a reaction to being romantically rebuffed, and compared (unfavorably) to Snape. Jealousy drove James’s behavior, not Snape’s behavior, and accusing an assault victim of only acting this way because he’s jealous of his assailant is… a choice. Especially when the assailant is dead, and so is the object of jealousy, and there’s literally nothing and no one left to be jealous of anymore.

Jealousy explains few to none of Snape’s actions, and rather a lot of what James got up to.

Do we need to discuss what the Death Eaters did to the poor Muggle woman at the Quidditch World Cup? That Draco wasn’t trying to be helpful in warning Hermione to run away, but rather was attempting to belittle her by alluding to her sexuality? Do we need to, really? Do we need to recall that Voldemort himself described the Death Eaters’ behavior (which wasn’t as atrocious as James’s) as "Muggle Torture”?

How much do we need to be spoon-fed? “Sexual assault” is a charged term? Good. That scene is meant to be appalling. There’s a reason it’s one of the most detailed, graphic and harrowing scenes. It’s important for understanding these characters.

If JKR had wanted to write James as noble, if arrogant, and Snape as jealous and full of unjustified hatred  toward James, she could have. It’s Snape’s hatred toward poor Harry that’s invalid, as the text comments on.

If one feels that to call someone a “sexual assaulter” is to caricaturize them or unfairly malign them when they’re actually more nuanced and complex than that, I can only reply that they can take it up with the author who had made her character that way. If we want to believe a sexual assaulter can grow, change and atone, good on us for our optimism and compassion, although I hope we reserve some for the victims. If we want to believe James, specifically, did - it’s not my cup of tea, but knock yourselves out. But not calling a spade a spade is not the solution and is not helpful.

One last point. I’ve seen it argued that calling James a sex offender is somehow harmful to “real” victims, because it trivializes “real” sexual violence. Funny, that. Funny that feminists fought with tooth and nail for less exacting interpretations that would protect as many people as possible, and then here we are, resorting to (incorrect) technical classifications to avoid calling someone a sex offender, when being a sex offender is nearly his entire claim to fame. Funny, that suddenly gatekeeping is okay and even beneficial. Funny that we think that if we salvage someone from being considered a sex offender by the strictest definitions, it makes his actions remotely okay. Funny that we need to be reminded again, in 2022, that sexual violence is sometimes about sex, but always about power. That men can be and often are victim, That many people, including many “real victims” (in the sense that they are not fictional and are also victims) take great comfort in the representation of a believable survivor who is nevertheless a hero (and a cautionary tale).

This argument is ridiculous and borders on immoral. No one in their right mind would call Harry’s friends sex offenders as they exposed his form shamelessly while under the effect of Polyjuice Potion. That indeed would be trivializing, so no one does it. It’s especially ridiculous for a fandom that is so adept at understanding parallels and allusions to real life when they’re much less fitting, but instructive all the same, such as house-elf <> slave, lychanthropy <> other stigmatized conditions, and Death Eaters <> Nazis and other hate groups. What’s trivializing is the idea that one can atone for and move on from the sexual assault they committed by being nice to some other people. What’s trivializing is to maintain that there’s a proper way to be a victim, complete with a timeline for healing (and that if you don’t comply, you’re probably not even a victim).

Hate Snape all you want. He’s a bastard. Criticize his coping mechanisms, by all means. They’re inadequate and toxic - but let’s not tell ourselves he has no need for them. Love James if it makes you happy. Many beloved people are sex offenders and their unlovable victims are… just that, and pretending this isn’t so is helping no one.

The Gestalt Prince, FIQ and 8 other users have reacted to this post.
The Gestalt PrinceFIQKrystalNaagaWinter's ShadeDark AngelBitterBritSalvyusSamUla

Exacly! I've seen so many people saying that what James did was normal, that it wasn't bad etc. They just can't stand that someone could something like that to Snape!

I mean, imagine how it would look if they didn't have wands with themselfs. James would have to pin Snape down probably, hang him to the tree (still upside down) and then do it all with his bare hands. I mean, hello people? We know that magic doesn't exist, so if someone in our universum did that, it would be a problem, sure, but with magic it's not!

It was really clear what happen.

Great idea btw

The Gestalt Prince, Krystal and 3 other users have reacted to this post.
The Gestalt PrinceKrystalNaagaWinter's ShadeSam

For all intents and purposes, it was sexual assault. The fandom somehow lacks the reading comprehension or is willfully ignoring the flaws of their favorite characters because otherwise their little view would be shattered and they would be forced to confront the idea that the characters they revere weren't good people. This goes to some of the extreme Snape fans who try to whitewash his faults too, although to a lesser extent. Personally, I don't consider those as flaws but maybe I am just weird that way and in my opinion his biggest flaw was being devoted to the memory of a person who didn't deserve it in the first place.

Anyways, great post as always.

The Gestalt Prince, Krystal and 3 other users have reacted to this post.
The Gestalt PrinceKrystalNaagaWinter's ShadeBitterBrit