The Sexist

The X-Files “Wants to Believe,” Just Not In Rape Victims

x files

Recently, I began re-watching The X-Files, a 90's television program about a fringe department in the FBI devoted to investigating "unexplained phenomenon"—paranormal activity, extraterrestrial life, government conspiracy, alien fetus contraband, and the like. Heading up the X-Files is Fox Mulder, a brilliant psychological profiler who has been marginalized in the FBI for his strong belief in all things paranormal; his partner, Dana Scully, is a medically-trained skeptic who acts as Mulder's foil (sexual tension abounds).

But in the middle of Season 2, Mulder comes across one unexplained phenomenon that he just can't bring himself to believe in: Rape.

. . . Okay, so it's specifically a rape committed by the invisible spirit of a septuagenarian Alzheimer's patient living in a retirement home ["Excelsis Dei," 1994]. Michelle Charters, an orderly at an assisted-living facility, contacts the FBI claiming that she was brutally beaten and sexually assaulted by a resident while on duty. According to Charters' medical report and a self-shot video she provided to the FBI, "the abrasions and contusions here would be consistent with her claims," Scully notes, and the examination revealed "injury and tearing associated with sexual trauma."

Picture 1
Hmm . . . looks like
someone made up a story to get out of work today.

But what's not explained by the medical report? Charters "claims to have been raped by an invisible entity," specifically the projected spirit of a long-time resident who had repeatedly groped and made sexual comments toward Charters in the past. Sure, the whole spirit-rapist thing sounds pretty unlikely, but this is just the kind of paranormal twist that, in nearly every other episode of the X-Files, Mulder would immediately believe, back up with evidence from several previous X-Files cases, and then aggressively investigate. This time, Mulder cites a couple of other X-Files documenting "entity rapes," notes that none have ever been substantiated, and is basically like, "well, fuck it."

Over the past season and-a-half, Mulder has instantly accepted the following explanations for otherwise "unexplained" crimes:

- a slain police officer with a penchant for origami animals is reincarnated as a 9-year-old suburban girl in order to exact revenge against his former partners (and complete his widow's origami animal collection);

- the spirit of a dying bank robber, shot by Scully in a botched robbery, assumes the body of another FBI agent in order to exact revenge upon her (and hook up with his ex-girlfriend);

- an extraterrestrial parasitic organism living deep under the Alaskan ice invades the bodies of Arctic scientists, leading them to all murder each other;

- the members of an Amish-ish community known as "the Kindred," who somehow have the ability to instantly switch from male to female, murder people with their superior powers of seduction (and bury dying members in the sticky residue of some sort of restorative cave);

- a criminal who Mulder helped capture in his first FBI case, presumed dead, is actually alive, killing people again, somehow growing younger, and now has a salamander hand;

- a centuries-old man who can stretch his body to inhuman lengths commits a series of murders in order to provide sustenance before returning to hibernate in a nest;

- a former alien abductee, with the help of a government conspiracy bent on dismantling the X-Files, kidnaps Scully and offers her up to the alien beings, who perform tests on her for an unspecified period of time before returning her to Earth in an unexplained coma;

- vampirism;

- a Vietnam veteran who, through a strange war experiment, was left without the ability to ever sleep, murders the surviving members in the company by projecting his violent dreams into reality.

But when a woman contacts Mulder and Scully and informs them that she was raped by an invisible spirit, Mulder's all like, "What, that's impossible!"

Picture 3

But Mulder agrees to go to the retirement home anyway, where he tells Charters that he can't go forward with her case without some kind of physical evidence, as if that has ever been necessary to Mulder's investigations before, ever. Then they go on a nice tour of the facility with Charters' boss, who tells Mulder and Scully that Charters is just a big whiner, and also the weirdest thing is happening at the facility where all the patients who used to have Alzheimer's magically don't have Alzheimer's anymore. Meanwhile Mulder is just farting his way through the whole process, telling Scully things like, "I think this is going to turn out to be a huge waste of time, just like all the other X-Files on entity rape," as she attempts to figure out WTF is going on in this facility, where all the Alzheimer's went, and how invisible people are raping (and now killing) all of the facility's orderlies.

Picture 4
. . . but what if she wasn't lying about being brutally beaten and raped?

Then Mulder tells Scully that they're leaving, checking out of their hotel, and heading back to Washington "with a big goose egg," and she's like, but, but:

Scully: What if there's a connection?

Mulder: Between the rape case and the Alzhemiers? You mean, when they're not drawing childlike pictures they're violent sex offenders? . . .  You think Michelle Charters was raped by a 74-year-old schizophrenic?

Scully: It's possible.

Mulder: . . . an invisible 74-year-old schizophrenic?

Scully: Well maybe it's not the medication. Maybe it's the place itself.

Mulder: Are you saying the building is haunted? Because if you are, I think you've been working with me too long.

Scully: I'm saying there might be an environmental reason for what's happening there . . .

Mulder: I think you're looking too hard, Scully, for something that's not there. I think that Michelle Charters concocted this story to get out of a job she hates.

Scully: Her lip required 13 stitches. The blood to her head resulted in a subdural hematoma. That's quite a concoction.

So Mulder is finally like fiiiiine, and they return to the retirement home, where additional shit goes down:

Picture 6
Spirit murder

Picture 5
Spirit flooding

. . . and so Mulder finally puts his Oxford-trained brain to work, immediately determines that a guy he refers to as "The Asian Orderly" has been growing illicit mushrooms in the old folks' home basement as some sort of medicinal treatment from "his home country," and the mushrooms were making the Alzheimer's go away and also helping the spirits of dead residents seek revenge against their former orderlies by . . . well, that part's not really explained, actually! But whatever, case closed—Mulder never needs any real evidence, anyway, as long as the case doesn't have anything to do with rape.

  • Mike

    You seem to miss the point of this episode. Mulder is the character who seems to believe in any outlandish theory, while Scully is the medically trained pragmatist that looks at things from a scientific point of view. Every once in a while the writers have the two switch sides, where one becomes the believer, and the other the sceptic. While I don't seem to recall this episode, given that it probably aired in 1993, from your own synopsis, this seems to be one of those episodes.

  • Amanda Hess

    Mike, I get the storytelling switcheroo here. You seem to miss the point of my post, which is that making rape the only weakness in Mulder's belief system is an obvious (and in my view, hilariously awful) capitulation to the very mainstream skepticism of rape claims. The "but don't you see, it makes the formula more interesting!" argument tells me that you are more likely to sympathize with the storytelling "necessity" of a 1994 episode of the X-Files than you are with victims of rape, which is interesting.

  • dp

    I happen to be familiar with this particular episode and I was also amused by Mulder's skepticism regarding the ghost-raping. @Mike, the only person who missed the point was the person who doesn't remember the episode (you).

  • Manor

    I often wonder if Amanda and her cohorts ever focus on the violent mysogyny facing women in places like eastern Congo or Afghanistan, or if the local feminism only focuses on trivial and provincial issues of no mortal consequence. Thank you for providing such a clear answer.

  • dp

    This is the Washington City Paper. Key word: WASHINGTON. As in: Washington, DC. Her cover story last week was about rape kits in WASHINGTON. Why? Because this is a blog for a local newspaper that covers local issues. Sometimes it covers American commentary more generally i.e. X-Files. This is not the Kinshasa City Paper.

  • Eo

    RAPE! makes good copy.

  • rebekah manning

    EO, go away already. We all know that you are a rape apologist. You have trolled us enough, and we aren't going to respond anymore. Do yourself a favor and stop wasting your time

  • Eo

    I resent that mischaracterization RM. Im not trolling anyone RM,nor am I a rape apologist, nor am I a rape extremist, alarmist or fearmonger... as you can see from my few posts. You are welcome to pretend that you live in a rape culture, others are free to monetise rape victims.. Im free to give my opinion on these extreme positions, and so on.

  • scary joann

    First of all, awesome piece.
    Secondly, I imagine that most local columnists want to write about rape on a global scale. But in order for anything to get past a decent editor it usually has to have some form of local appeal. Then it can take some work to explain how situations around the globe effect locals, and there's a very limited amount of space.
    If you want to read about rape around the globe, there are plenty of places to do exactly that. She's addressing a relatively local audience, which this piece actually relates to.

  • Rayne

    Not saying she couldn't cover global rape, but there are plenty of places that do. I like reading this because I find little to no info on local issues from a feminist perspective.

    I work in a global perspective though in my organization, so sometimes it's interesting for me to hear about the place I live.

  • Jenny

    Manor, you are totally right. No women ever get raped here in Washington DC and feminists are incapable of caring about local and international issues at the same time. Amanda, get thee to the Congo at once!

  • Athenia

    Perhaps the writers thought having Scully be the non-believer in this episode would have been too unseemly?

  • Laura

    My favorite blog critiques my favorite show...must...disassociate...! Gaaaah!

    The X-Files is really pretty good from a feminist perspective, but this episode is a clear exception. I remember that episode well and Amanda makes valid points.

    Mulder and Scully do occasionally reverse roles, but that's not really the issue at hand. One of them always plays the role of skeptic, but both of them acknowledge the reality of what they've seen, their disagreement centers on the cause as supernatural or not. Why Mulder spends so much time discounting the very clear reality of this woman's rape is a bit mystifying. I don't recall another episode that questioned someone's status as a victim so harshly.

  • thordaddy

    Or maybe Mulder, being the believer in the immaterial, thought of the logical impossibility of being raped by an immaterial entity?

    In reality, Mulder's line of reasoning is totally consistent with his worldview while Scully actually looks like the fanatic as a materialist scientist giving credence to rape by immaterialism.

  • groggette

    logical impossibility

    um, isn't that like the entire premise of the show?

  • Manor

    Ha! I can't believe you deleted my initial critique!!! How fragile you are Amanda! Poor girl...

  • groggette

    Ha! I can't believe you can't click the link "Show Flagged Comments" right there at the bottom of the comments!!! How stupid you are, Manor! Poor you...

  • Manor

    Oh duh, thanks, I admit I didn't see the 8 point font down there. Why would it be flagged? Are we not able to debate such issues here? Just curious, enjoy thyselves and thy good lives here in the USA.

  • thordaddy


    I suppose it is the premise of the show. Immaterial entities HAVE NO EFFECT on the real world. So again, Mulder's reaction was to be materialist while Scully's reaction was to believe in the immaterial. Scully wanted to believe that an immaterial force rapes this female while Mulder thought it impossible. Of course, in progressive world, it is impossible.

  • Amanda Hess

    what the fuck is this guy talking about?

  • thordaddy


    You thought it strange that Mulder would deny the rape of the woman by an immaterial force even though he believes in such things. But even stranger was Scully believing in rape
    by an immaterial force. Afterall, she is the scientist and the immaterial
    does not exist.

  • Erica

    It reminds me of the scene in Twin Peaks where Agent Cooper admits that he would rather believe a supernatural killer named BOB was behind the death of a young girl than believe a father could rape and murder his own daughter. Ugh.

  • ENN

    I am not sure that I ever saw this episode, but my thought is that the X-files writers were commenting on male disbelief in rape by having Mulder, the ultimate believer, think this particular victim was lying.

  • Bobby

    Thank you thordaddy for pointing out that Scully, a through sceptic of all things supernatural, or extrateristal would believe that a ghost could physically rape someone, something that no one else seems to have picked up on. I myself think the whole episode was poorly written.

  • Amanda Hess

    Actually, Scully never expressed any belief that this woman was raped by a ghost. She did, however, reject Mulder's assumption that the woman had self-inflicted extreme wounds all over her body, successfully replicated the specific wounds that accompany a sexual assault, and then made up the most absurd lie ever---a ghost raped me!---in order to get out of work. When has claiming ghost rape ever gotten anyone out of work? Why wouldn't she just say that she was raped by a real human?

    Scully can't accept Mulder's determination because it's extremely illogical. But she doesn't immediately believe in the ghost-rape theory, either. She investigates for a reasonable, scientific explanation. In the end, the case remains unexplained---neither Mulder nor Scully ever really figure out what's going on, but they do know that the woman (and the men who ended up being murdered in the retirement home) weren't just liars.

    I agree the episode was poorly written.

  • Laura

    Okay, I've been watching X-Files DVD's recently and got to this episode, so I have some new thoughts on it. It's not the best X-Files to be sure. On the upside, the truth, that the viewer knows, is that the woman was raped. In that context, Mulder's skepticism is seen for what it is, illogical and silly in light of the evidence. The comment about getting out of work is totally not needed or helpful, but the episode vindicates the victim.

    I might be seeing this X-Files episode in a more positive light because I've recently come across a Star Trek: Voyager episode on this topic as well. In season 4, there's an episode named Retrospect that makes me yell profanities, throw things at the TV, etc. The episode dances around the issue, but is a transparent statement about supposed false rape allegations brought on by meddling psychologists. It’s a feminist nightmare. Granted, the season of Voyager where Seven of Nine comes on board isn’t known for women’s empowerment, but this one is really in a whole different league.

  • Laurel

    You need help, or a life or both. I pity you. I am a CSA and rape survivor and I love the X-Files. We own all the seasons and we are in the middle of watching them again. Now before you tell me I need a life, we watch on average 4 episodes per week so put your sarcasm gun back in the holster. They are fiction not a moral point of reference or an extension of the DSM4R or whatever version is in use now. Why don't you take up a new project like investigate Monsanto or figure out why BP can't/won't stop the oil from leaking or join PETA Habitat For Humanity or Greenpeace.

  • Laurel

    "I often wonder if Amanda and her cohorts ever focus on the violent misogyny facing women in places like eastern Congo or Afghanistan, or if the local feminism only focuses on trivial and provincial issues of no mortal consequence."~Manor
    I agree with this and this comment should not have been flagged.