Given the recent political developments surrounding sexual assault, violence, and rape, I thought it would be an appropriate time to recommend one of my favorite manga. Bitter Virgin is a relatively short manga that you can read in a few hours which centers on the story of Aikawa Hinako, a high school girl who was the victim of being raped by her step-father at the age of 14. She gets an abortion only for the sexual violence and raping to continue and gets pregnant a second time. This time, she is forced to wait out the term and give birth to her father’s baby. Because of this history, she develops a deep rooted fear of men and moves to the countryside where her classmate Suwa accidentally finds out about her secret when she confesses at the local church. Thus begins the story of a girl who has experienced nothing but tragedy and a boy attempting to balance her fears and secret with his own growing attraction to her.
I first read Bitter Virgin in high school, and I feel like it did a lot to teach me the kinds of problems girls have to deal with that, as a guy, I would never realize on my own. That is not to say every girl has been raped, but as more and more women have been coming out and publicly telling their stories, it is clear that every girl has at least one story involving sexual harassment. Without such awareness movements, this would continue to go unnoticed, as women go on pretending to be happy even when they are really crying on the inside. It is becoming more and more obvious how many women in today’s society have had traumatic experiences with sexual harassment, assault, and rape yet remain silent for their entire lives.
While Aikawa is still too young to have shouldered her secret for decades, the story nonetheless touches on this topic. When she first confesses to her mother about her step-father’s actions, she is reprimanded for being a liar and a disgrace. The one person who should have protected her only makes the problem worse. It’s only after the doctor points out she is likely a victim of rape that the mother finally acknowledges the truth – even so, it is the doctor, not the victim, who is able to change her mind. If a girl cannot trust her own mother, who can she trust? Throughout the story, we see Aikawa’s fear not just of men and sexual assault, but also of being found out. To be a victim of sexual assault is considered the greatest shame, and while it never states it directly, the manga makes it a point that she sees herself as “damaged goods” who could never be loved. She lives every day in fear of others discovering her secret, and the amount of psychological damage that entails for a sexual assault victim is something I will never be able to truly relate to.
Interestingly enough, there is also a scene with a false rape accusation. This is perhaps the most relevant scene in the manga to today’s developments with a certain Supreme Court Justice nominee (well, now after drafting this, he is officially confirmed). There are many opinions on the topic, but I think this one line from the manga sums up how rape accusations go the best:
If she had really been raped, she wouldn’t be able to make such a fuss. When you’re raped, you’re scared and in pain. You can’t do anything but cry.
It is disgusting that so many people say things like “if she had really been raped, she would have immediately pressed charges!” As if that is how the mentality of a rape victim will go. A rape victim is instead far more likely to curl up in a ball, cry, and pretend it never happened. If people find out, there is the threat of the greatest public shame not for the assaulter but for the victim. If she goes without proof, she could be called a liar (what a surprise, that’s EXACTLY what happened), possibly even by her own family. And even if all that goes in her favor, there is still the potential issue of pregnancy and abortion, not to mention having to live with the trauma and scars left behind. Anyone who actually cares about sexual assault victims would know that keeping it a secret for decades is absolutely the most common and realistic response a young girl would make.
Bitter Virgin is seriously the best manga I’ve read when it comes to understanding the mentality and tragedy of sexual assault victims. I have nothing but praise for the author Kusonoki Kei who has stated some parts of the story relate to her own personal life experiences (not the rape). It is especially impressive in the context of Japan’s extremely patriarchal society and its tendency to downplay sexual assault and rape even more than America, not to mention how a core tenant of anime/manga is the sexual imagery of female characters. Maybe it’s still inaccurate or not as good as it could be, but again, as a guy, it opened my eyes to the cruel reality of sexual assault in many positive ways. So to sum it up, go read Bitter Virgin if you want a mature story on a serious topic that everyone is talking about lately.
I’d like to end by saying how much I respect every woman who has come out and admitted to being a victim of sexual assault. It takes such an enormous amount of courage to do that in a public forum where you will inevitably be greeted by criticism and hatred. And even for the countless others who have not revealed their secrets, you’re amazing too. Just being able to live out each day after undergoing such a traumatic event should be praiseworthy. I’m just a random guy on the internet, so it probably doesn’t mean anything, but still, please, keep fighting on because being able to continue after such a horrific experience makes you stronger than I could ever imagine myself to be.