Good girl forced bad: Scandal’s Quinn and trafficking tropes

The infamous "I have no one else so you can have me" scene.

After Scandal‘s winter finale, there is still a lot left to unpack about the dysfunctional, and most times downright dangerous, relationships highlighted in the show. For me, the budding relationship between Quinn and Charlie was the hardest to watch.

I hate quinn and wanted her dead last season. But she’s literally being pimped/trafficjed right now and its making me uncomfortable #scandal

— Sesali Yoncé (@BadFatBlackGirl) December 13, 2013

This storyline was set up to perfectly fit the textbook formula for the tragic good-girl-forced-bad narrative. Starting with Quinn as the “new girl.” As I recount my interpretation of this relationship, it might be helpful to imagine Olivia Pope as the foster parent at a home for kids with troubled past. She has done a pretty good job of helping those who have come into her care and they work well together as a family.

Insert Quinn. Portrayed as the as naive little sister, we watched Quinn struggle to find her place after being welcomed into the family. She’s looking for acceptance and validation among her team and is finding it hard to come by with the heavy workload that they all carry. Huck extends a hand by welcoming her to his technical, dirty job side of the table; but he does so in hopes that he can still protect her from the effects of actually immersing herself in a world of murder and secrets. One message that seems to be playing out with this gesture is that we need censorship in order to protect our innocent. By striving to know more about Huck’s world–which essentially meant she wanted to be better at her job–Quinn rejected that protection.

Charlie offered her the validation and acceptance that she wasn’t getting from her work family and she was tricked into killing someone. When she is “punished” for this at the torturous hands of Huck, she only feels more isolated, driving her back into the arms of Charlie. This scene, with Quinn naked and wrapped in a towel after being terrorized by Huck was the moment that I realized the problematic trafficking subtext. And not just trafficking in general – the storyline engages popular tropes about sex trafficking, which play into the problematic way sex work and trafficking get conflated. Quinn is literally being pimped in that her vulnerabilities were used against her to force her into the service of someone else. In this scene she tells Charlie, “Huck hurt me. He was all I had and he hurt me.” And then she removed her towel and they had sex.

Later, when she returns to Pope & Associates, looking for praise that she still doesn’t receive from Huck, she returns to Charlie once again. And it is clear, more than ever, that despite the threat Charlie poses in her life, she will be there. And what she’s really looking for is love and acceptance.

I feel some type of way about this storyline because for one, it suggests that if we all just love our daughters they won’t fall victim to people like Charlie. This is dangerous because it suggests that “good girls” (meaning women from well to do backgrounds with loving parents) are the ones we really need to be protecting form becoming victims of trafficking. Furthermore, her relationship with Charlie seems to be “punishment” for getting out of line and not following directions. Neither of which are ok. Why couldn’t she be neatly “handled” like other characters?

White hats off: Feministing writers deconstruct the Scandal rape scene
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Avatar Image Sesali is pretty close to being over Scandal… Wait. Who am I kidding?

Feministing's resident "sexpert", Sesali is a published writer and professional shit talker. She is a queer Black girl, fat girl, and trainer. She was the former Training Director at the United States Student Association and later a member of the Youth Organizing team at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She received her bachelors in Women's and Gender Studies from Depaul University in 2012 and is currently pursuing a master's in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta. A self identified "trap" feminist, and trained with a reproductive justice background, her interests include the intersections of feminism and: pop culture, youth culture, social media, hip hop, girlhood, sexuality, race, gender, and Beyonce. Sesali joined the team in 2010 as one of the winners of our So You Think You Can Blog contest.

is Feministing's resident sexpert and cynic.

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