Let’s suppose for a moment that the Teen Wolf writers are fully cognizant of the story they have been telling and that they have included all details with intention, that the actors have only ever promulgated that same vision. If this is so, then over three season, they have pieced together not just a tragic story about a kid whose family was murdered, but a fairly unique in modern media portrayal of an adult male victim of assault. English doesn’t quite have a term for what’s being portrayed. One could say sexual assault, except many instances aren’t about sex for either party. Assault alone simply means attack; a punch in the face is assault. What viewers are presented with are, among other things, instances of non-consensual bodily usage, often weaponization. It’s violation and compulsion, hallmarks of rape, yet without a sexual component, rendering a single term difficult, if not impossible, to find. So, not for lack of subtlety, I shall go with assault, but it means all of the above.
It may be easiest to examine the instances out of chronological order, as they range from overt violence to almost entirely subtext. In fact, the assaults on Derek get more overt as time goes on.
1. Boyd’s Murder
This is, arguably, the most obvious instance of Derek’s body being used against his will. Werewolf bodies are naturally dangers, their claws naturally sharp. And during times of high stress and anger, their shifting is beyond their control. Further, when werewolves are electrocuted, their control over their shifting is affected, if not canceled out completely. So, when the fight with Kali does not go as planned and Derek ends up being electrocuted right along with her, there’s likely very little he could have done to counteract his shift into wolf form. The claws were out and were going to be out. The twins, also both alphas, would possess enough strength to hold his arms where they wanted them, and pressure points can keep people from forming a fist. It would be, essentially, like controlling someone’s wrist while they held a sword. It was simple, then, for Kali to impale Boyd on Derek’s claws, turning him into a weapon, a thing instead of a person. With no ability to move, shift, or stop what was happening, he became a tool, stripped of the autonomy and agency that he would otherwise expect to have. Boyd may have died at his hands, but not at his will.
The form of Kali’s assault, then, was to break the connection between will and body. By physical force, Derek’s body was made to kill, was the receptacle (receiving side) for violence which, by its own innate qualities (sharp, deadly claws), produced a deadly outcome through no acts and no volition. Swords don’t want to kill. They simply are, and flesh is rent upon them.
2. Gerard’s Bite
In much the same way that Kali used Derek to impale Boyd, Scott used Derek to impale Gerard. Scott had figured out long before the final confrontation what Gerard was really after. He knew he had cancer and had prepared Gerard’s body to reject the Bite once he got it by filling his system with mountain ash. Ostensibly, a clever plan. However, it was not a plan that Scott shared with Derek. So, in the final showdown, when Derek is nearly paralyzed (a notable loss of bodily autonomy in its own right), Scott enacts his plan.
The Bite has to come from Derek, because Derek is the alpha. But as far as he is aware, Biting Gerard will result in turning him into a werewolf, something none of them wants. Derek actually pleads with Scott not to use him in this way, but Scott forces him up and holds him so that his teeth are exposed. All Gerard has to do is press his arm onto Derek’s fangs to give himself the Bite.
As with Boyd’s death, Derek is stripped of his ability to move, to fight back, or to alter what’s being done to his body. Scott’s strength is more than he is capable of fighting against in his weakened state. He’s actively made it clear that he does not give consent, but that has no impact on the outcome. The natural state of his body, this time fangs, is turned into someone else’s weapon, and his own will negated. Derek’s body will do and endure what another person, someone *with* agency, intends for it to do.
This assault is made all the more potent, though, because Scott is the perpetrator. Derek had, despite Scott repeatedly trying to get him arrested, made an effort to trust Scott. And Scott had built for himself the reputation of The Good Guy, the one everyone can count on. Everyone, seemingly, except Derek, as this interaction made clear.
3. Peter’s Resurrection
Given that Derek was the one who killed Peter in the first place, it’s fairly safe to say that he does not, generally, want him around. In order to use Derek as needed for this plan, Peter uses Lydia as a puppet (so actually both Lydia and Derek are victims of Peter in exactly the same fashion). Lydia knocks Derek out with the equivalent of a date rape drug and drags him to where his blood is needed.
As with the previous examples, his ability to control his own body is nullified, this time through drugs instead of through force. He repeatedly asks Lydia to stop (although she is an unable to comply as he is) and is ignored. She places his hand where it needs to be, and Peter is able to extract the blood to complete the spell. Derek knows what’s going on but is unable to stop it. In all three examples above, the assault takes the form on nonconsent and non-sexual compulsion.
Sexual assault and rape remain subtexts, here, because these are the contexts in which nonconsent and bodily compulsion are often framed. We know that violations are happening, and any words used to describe those situations inevitably connotate rape. Taken alone, we might think that Derek simply gets “used” a lot, or some equally mollifying term meant to downplay the psychological impact of what’s been committed against him. But there are more examples still.
The impact that Kate had on Derek beyond the horror of the fire can only be assessed indirectly. We know, based on Derek’s age given on his driver’s license, that he was 23 in Season 1 and therefore 16 or 17 when the fire happened. There is little room to doubt that Kate’s relationship with him constituted statutory rape. This did happen. And she’s quite proud of herself. When she sees him again, she even comments on how he “filled out,” making clear that when she knew him he wasn’t yet grown.
We don’t know how she treated him when they were together. But we do see a reaction from Derek to her touch that has all the hallmarks of a PTSD trigger episode.
At first he tries to control his reaction, to keep himself under control, but the reaction is too strong. After lashing out, he’s left panting in fear. There could have been any myriad of reactions to her licking his stomach, from non-reaction, to disgust, to even liking it. Anything was possible, but where he ended up was *fear* profound enough to leave him shaking. If we accept that this is the result of a PTSD trigger, the next logical question would be how he developed it. It’s a piece of Derek’s history that we simply don’t know. His reaction implies an assault or series of assaults sufficiently traumatizing, but we can only guess at what it must have been.
This, combined with the statutory rape, makes Derek clearly a victim of sexual assault which is no longer just subtext.
5. Peter’s manipulations
Finally, and mostly subtly of all, is Peter’s treatment of Derek when they were younger. When talking about the details that we are aware of, one inevitably starts sounding like they are talking about something much more sinister.
We have a flashback of Derek’s past at all because Stiles goes hunting for an explanation as to why “Derek is the way he is.” He wants to know what broke him. The answer to that question is not just that Derek fell in love with Paige and ultimately had to kill. The whole answer is that Peter manipulated Derek into a situation where he ultimately had to kill her, for entirely unknown reasons.
It’s clear from the flashback that Derek thought of Peter as a trusted friend and confidant. That Derek looked up to him gave Peter power over him, power that he used to betray his trust. Given the way the narrative is laid out, with viewers seeing the truth while Peter spins a lie, we are meant to discern that the truth is worth hiding.
It also seems obvious that although Derek is aware of being pressured by Peter, he doesn’t tell anyone what happened. Cora didn’t know. And one must imagine that if Talia had known that her brother set things in motion, he wouldn’t be living under her roof. So, what happened between them stayed a secret, much the way that what happened with Kate stayed a secret.
So, Peter uses his influence over Derek to push him toward a bad decision, which they both stay silent about. Derek is betrayed by a family member, a pack member, who he was supposed to be able to trust implicitly, and did trust up to that point. Ever since, though, Derek’s compass for determining who to trust has been broken.
The silence. The power. The broken trust by a family member. These are all phrases that come up with child molestation. As far as we know, it didn’t happen in this case. And yet the echoes are there in the storytelling, part of the subtext of an unhealthy relationship that is the first in a line of unhealthy relationships and overt abuses.
If the facts of the incidents themselves are not enough, we can also find in Derek’s characterization some hallmarks of adult male victims of assault. [Colorado State University published a guide] which lists, among other things: -anger and hostility -fear -helplessness -negative feelings about people and self -self blame/guilt -sleep disturbance -suicidal ideas or behaviors
Many experiences might cause these particular reactions, but given the context, it’s difficult to dismiss them as all being happenstance.
So, why is all this even worth thinking about? Because this is not a version of male experience we see represented all that often in media. Certainly not often, if ever, in a sci-fi/fantasy show aimed at a young audience. Derek presents as a strong alpha male. He’s physically imposing and attractive; he takes charge. Those around him think he’s a perpetrator, not a victim.
And yet, his narrative arc since basically childhood tells a completely different story. He’s continually victimized. But, most likely because he’s male, it goes unaddressed. We literally do not see male victims of assault because of cultural blinders. The assumption is that they’ll just get over because that’s what guys do. Thus far, Teen Wolf has brought up these issues but failed to acknowledge them or address them.
It’s worth us thinking about as viewers because they could address them if they wanted and bring some visibility to a set of human experiences so often swept under the rug.