Consent in “Harry Potter,” or the Lack Thereof
by Emma Crisenbery
The lack of consent throughout the Harry Potter series is a concerning matter. Not only do wizards seem to lack empathy towards those affected by sexual assault, but they do not even seem to be looking for consent. It is often brushed aside when the topic comes up. Victims of sexual assault and harassment are treated unkindly and without seriousness. Sexual assault, the lack of care for the victims of sexual assault, the praise for assaulting creatures seen as less than, and seemingly harmless potions are all demonstrations of how the wizarding society simply does not give enough attention to or have the right attitude toward consent.
Sexual assault, while perhaps not evident at first, takes place in various parts of the Harry Potter series. One example of this would be at the party thrown by Slughorn in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. When Harry spots Hermione, she “looked distinctly disheveled, rather as though she had just fought her way out of a thicket of Devil’s Snare” (HBP 317). Harry’s first reaction to Hermione at the party is that she looks as though she has fought with a dangerous plant. Hermione then reveals that she has “escaped – I mean, I’ve just left Cormac” (HBP 317). Cormac McLaggen, a notoriously aggressive character, was Hermione’s choice to the ball to get back at Ron. This, however, backfires on her as he corners her “under the mistletoe” (HBP 317). At first glance, this looks like just another bad date; however, the fact that Hermione feels that she has to “escape” McLaggen is worrying at best. “Escape” insinuates that Hermione felt trapped with McLaggen. This, mixed with the fact that her outward appearance is disheveled and she left him under the mistletoe, points to the fact that McLaggen was sexually harassing Hermione. What is even more worrying, however, is Harry’s response to Hermione’s situation: “Serves you right for coming with him” (HBP 317). This shows how Harry does not take this situation seriously. The best he does is point McLaggen in the opposite direction when he comes looking for Hermione. Harry’s lack of empathy and action on behalf of Hermione’s harassment highlights the attitude towards consent in this series.
Dumbledore’s sister, Ariana, was “attacked, set upon, by three Muggle boys” (DH 564). While it is never stated what exactly the three boys did to young Ariana, there is speculation that she was raped. Ariana’s behavior after the attack is one reason to believe such speculations: “it destroyed her, what they did: She was never right again” (DH 564). This kind of trauma led to Ariana hiding within herself and made her magic volatile. While Dumbledore and his family seemed upset by this, they did not let Ariana receive the care she needed: “If the Ministry had known what Ariana had become, she’d have been locked up in St. Mungo’s for good” (DH 564). The Dumbledore family decided to lock up Ariana instead of letting her get medical attention, physical or mental, and by doing so, they were effectively acting as if they were ashamed of Ariana. Ron’s Auntie Muriel even thought they were hiding Ariana because she was a Squib: “In our day, Squibs were often hushed up, though to take it to the extreme of actually imprisoning a little girl in the house and pretending she didn’t exist” (DH 155). The Dumbledores, whether knowingly or not, were shaming Ariana for what had happened to her when she was little. They, much like Harry with Hermione, were not taking the situation as seriously as they should have. If Ariana had gone to therapy, there is a chance her magic would not have been so explosive, and she might have even led a normal life.
Even in classes at Hogwarts, one of the safest places in the wizarding community, sexual assault is seen. The Snargaluff tree, a known flesh-eating tree, is seen during an Herbology lesson. While the main focus of the scene is Slughorn’s Christmas party, the actions of the students are described as violent and violating:
Harry succeeded in trapping a couple of vines and knotting them together; a hole opened in the middle of all the tentaclelike branches; Hermione plunged her arm bravely into this hole, which closed like a trap around her elbow; Harry and Ron tugged and wrenched at the vines, forcing the hole to open again, and Hermione snatched her arm free, clutching in her fingers a pod just like Neville’s. At once, the prickly vines shot back inside, and the gnarled stump sat there looking like an innocently dead lump of wood.” (HBP 281)
As Harry and Ron hold down the tree, Hermione effectively deflowers it. Words used in this passage, such as “trapping,” “wrenched,” and “snatched,” are all seemingly violent. The idea here is that Harry and Ron are forcing open this hole in a live plant while Hermione steals something from inside. This is a very detailed scene of sexual assault on a plant. This is not only disturbing, but it is also encouraged in class. Neville, in fact, is praised for how quickly he is able to get his first pod out. What is more disturbing, however, is that once the trio is finally able to pop open the pod they stole from the tree, it is revealed that they contain the plant’s offspring: “Hermione managed to burst the first one open, so that the bowl was full of tubers wriggling like pale green worms” (HBP 283). It is no wonder the tree becomes “dead” after this forced abortion.
Umbridge, while one of the most disliked Harry Potter characters of all time, is another example of how sexual assault happens in the series, and yet nobody seems to care again. Umbridge, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, is dragged against her will into the Forbidden Forest by the centaurs. Nobody quite knows exactly what went down when Umbridge was kidnapped by the centaurs, but there are various clues, much like with Ariana. It is clear that the centaurs did not simply beat up Umbridge as when she is brought back to the hospital wing, “her unusually neat mousy hair was very untidy, and there were bits of twig and leaf in it, but otherwise she seemed to be quite unscathed” (OotP 849). So while her hair was messy and earthy, as she was dragged through a forest, she did not seem to have a scratch on her. Her behavior was also much like Ariana’s after being attacked: “since she had returned to the castle she had not, as far as any of them knew, uttered a single word” (OotP 849). Umbridge is obviously not her usual arrogant and bossy self, so she must have suffered from psychological trauma. It is also seen that she has developed PTSD from this incident: “Ron… with his tongue he made soft clip-clopping noises. Umbridge sat bolt upright, looking wildly around” (OotP 849). Umbridge will forever be scared of centaurs, and the trio, plus Ginny, simply “muffled their laughter in the bedclothes” (OotP 849). Even though Umbridge tortured them, they are still laughing at a victim of rape, which goes to show how these wizards feel about consent.
There is also the whole dilemma with love potions, a very popular novelty in the sixth book. Love potions force people to act like they are in love with another, the very idea of which is to take away another person’s ability to consent. This is shown through Ron when he accidentally takes the love potion meant for Harry: “they’re the Chocolate Cauldrons Romilda gave me before Christmas, and they’re all spiked with love potion!” (HBP 393). Thinking they were a birthday present, Ron unknowingly eats the “spiked” chocolate. This is where the series starts to take a sinister turn concerning consent. The girls in this book make it a game to see who can slip Harry a love potion first: “I went to the girls’ bathroom… there were about a dozen girls in there, including Romilda Vane, trying to decide how to slip you a love potion” (HBP 305). Even though Hermione is aware of this fact, and she does not think it to be right – “I don’t go around putting potions in people’s drinks… or pretending to, either, which is just as bad…” (HBP 307) – she still does not do anything about them, like inform the professors that potions against school rules are being smuggled in. In fact, just a couple lines later Hermione says, “love potions aren’t Dark or dangerous” (HBP 307), which is a total contradiction from what she says before, which is that slipping people potions is a bad thing, even if that potion is a love potion. Harry responds to the fact that love potions are not dangerous with “easy for you to say” (HBP 307), which plays right into the whole view on consent in the wizarding world. It is easy for the wizards to not care about something that is not directly affecting them – for example, Hermione and Ginny laughing at a traumatized Umbridge or Harry not telling McLaggen to sod off when he goes after Hermione. Love potions do not seem inherently evil until one is being specifically targeted.
After all, the relationship between Voldemort’s parents, Merope Gaunt and Tom Riddle, is based on love potions. Voldemort’s own mother is proof of how sinister love potions can be, no matter how innocent they seem at first. She did not care for Riddle’s actual feelings until after a few months into their marriage when she could no longer take how she was “enslaving him by magical means” (HBP 214). Riddle was held against his will, and as soon as Merope gave him a choice again, the chance to consent, “he left her, never saw her again, and never troubled to discover what became of his son” (HBP 214). So while love potions might seem harmless, they can completely alter the path of one’s life. As a result of Voldemort’s mother giving Riddle the love potion, not only was Riddle a “tremendous scandal” (HBP 213) in his town, but Voldemort’s whole existence was altered as well. Voldemort, a child who came about by means of rape, was a loveless child. His parents did not love each other, his mother died in childbirth, and his father never bothered to find him, which meant that Voldemort was never loved. This psychopath was created all because of a supposedly innocent love potion. However, like Hermione, people still think that love potions cannot cause any real harm, which is definitely worrisome. Voldemort’s mother basically drugs Riddle without him knowing, kidnaps him, forces him to marry her and have sex with her, and then lets him go. It is understandable that Riddle never went looking for the son of the woman who raped him.
Therefore, the lack of consent throughout the Harry Potter series is alarming. Hermione, Ariana, Umbridge, Harry, Ron, and Tom Riddle are all victims of others not caring for their free will and choice to consent. It is too easy for the wizards to not pay attention to something that is not happening to them. Perhaps wizards expect others to throw hexes when they are being harassed, but the wizarding world just seems blind to the lack of empathy and the lack of consent that leads to difficult situations. Sexual assault victims are brushed aside and ridiculed in this series. The attitude in wizarding society towards sexual assault victims and consent needs an update on how to create a safe space and how to take other people’s personal feelings into account. Perhaps a wizarding health class is in order.