Season two of Riverdale has established the titular town as one riddled with criminal secrets and a dark past, but among the murders and drug deals there’s one crime that no one on the show wants to acknowledge — Geraldine Grundy’s sexual assault and potential rape of Archie Andrews. It’s an odd omission in what is otherwise a conscientious teen drama, one that had an entire episode dedicated to the necessity of consent and evils of slut-shaming teen girls, which makes the show’s glossing over of a teen boy’s abuse even more confusing.
Make no mistake, Ms. Grundy and Archie’s season one relationship constitutes assault and possibly rape. The most common (and lowest) age of consent in the United States is 16, and even if Archie was exactly 16 (he's likely younger) Ms. Grundy being significantly older could mean that her pursuing him was illegal. Even if the laws in fictional Riverdale excluded that possibility, the fact that Ms. Grundy had sex with her student (and displays a horrifying predilection towards other teen boys in the show) means that there’s a coercive power dynamic that neither Archie nor anyone else in the show takes particular issue with.
Sure, Fred Andrews has Grundy run out of town for her relationship with his son, but the R-word is never mentioned when discussing Archie’s encounters with Grundy. In fact, most of the characters on the show have been kind of callous when it comes to describing what happened between them, with Veronica asking if Grundy is his “booty tutor” and Betty’s mum tarring both Archie and Grundy with a “guilty” label, suggesting Archie’s guilt in his own assault. In the opening narration to the episode where the Grundy situation comes to a head, Jughead refers to Archie and Grundy as engaging in a “forbidden romance,” which is a weird way to pronounce “potential statutory rape of my best friend.”
Mishandling a male character’s sexual assault or rape isn’t a surprising development for television. Jason Stackhouse from True Blood was repeatedly raped in season 4 of the HBO show and he blithely chalks it up to punishment for having too much sex in his life. Pacey's English teacher on Dawson's Creek pursued him as well, which the show presented as a full-fledged relationship before they were discovered. Television in general has a problem with these kinds of coercive student-teacher relationships and they're almost never taken as seriously as they should be — Aria on Pretty Little Liars comes to mind. But in Riverdale's case, the sexual double standard that falsely assumes that men, however young, have unassailable sexual agency is the root of the problem with Archie and Grundy. Young boys need protection from predators, and the idea that Archie would be OK with what happened to him is a bizarre departure from the reality of assault.
Even as Grundy’s crimes are brought to light in season one, Archie defends her by saying that he pursued her and she didn’t do anything he didn’t want to do, but Archie is a child. It doesn’t matter that his actor is 20 years old or that he looks mature enough to make those decisions: he’s a kid. Grundy is an adult who preyed upon her student, and after that comes to light... nothing. Fred makes a 12-word speech to his son about how Grundy leaving wasn’t Archie’s fault, but Archie still seems more upset that they got caught than he is at hearing in plain words that he was assaulted.
With Grundy’s murder in the season two premiere, Riverdale had an opportunity to course-correct its handling of Archie’s assault and veered off again, having Archie take her murder as a sign that someone is going after the people he cares about. It’s irresponsible of the show to put a child predator with the protagonist’s dad on the list of people to care about, and it’s disappointing to see a show that takes such care with other issues completely abandon what could have been a unique and prescient plot-line for male survivors of sexual assault. Young men have so few frames of reference for what processing a sexual assault looks like, and when a show like Riverdale goes this apathetic route, it's re-enforcing a silence that keeps men from coming forward in the first place. Perhaps as season two unfolds Archie will discover that Grundy was assaulting another one of her students and that will give him some way to process his insofar ignored victimhood, but at this point in the show it seems unlikely, and that’s a dangerous shame.
Via: Cosmopolitan US