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16th October 2017

Film and media continue to let down survivors of sexual assault

A girl walks down an alleyway at night, the silhouette of a man appears behind her. A woman walks through an empty car park, the camera shoots from behind a nearby car, she fiddles for her keys. We all know what happens next

The way rape is portrayed in the media often fails to reflect the experiences shared by the majority of survivors. Rape scenes in film and television are dramatized, often depicting extremely violent rape scenes. A warped perception of rape is presented to the public, affecting the way we perceive the boundaries between rape and consensual sex. Therefore, survivors can often feel their experience do not earn them the right to be defined as a survivor, making them less inclined to take action against perpetrators.

Crime dramas such as CSI and Criminal Minds often depict serial rapists unknown to their victims and brutal scenes of rape, during which physical marks and an abundance of evidence become available to the authorities. However, as Rape Crisis UK states, around 90 per cent of rape victims know the perpetrator prior to the offence, and rape often leaves little to no evidence or physical markings, especially as survivors often fail to report the crime for long periods of time.

As women, we are taught not to go out at night alone and to be wary when on the streets out of fear of being raped by a stranger, yet these kinds of sexual assaults only make up 10 per cent of rapes in the UK. We are not taught how to deal with rapes that are carried out by those we love, and it is common for victims to continue to engage in normal relationships with their attackers. However, victims that go down this path should not be persecuted or discredited as survivors.

In England and Wales alone, around 12,000 men and 85,000 women are raped every year. Only 15 per cent of survivors choose to report the rape to the police. In my opinion, the fact their narrative does not comply with the way rape is portrayed in the media plays a huge part in this.

When it happened to me, my rapist told me that I couldn’t compare myself to someone that was taken off the street by a stranger and raped at night, but he was wrong. A rape doesn’t need to comply with any given narrative to be defined as rape. If non-consensual sex occurs, a rape has taken place.

13 Reasons Why, a fictional series recounting a teenager’s journey towards suicide, became regarded as highly controversial. Several of the graphic depictions of rape and suicide were criticized as triggering and harmful despite warnings shown before episodes.

One particular scene shows the main character, Hannah, raped by an acquaintance named Bryce following a party. She remains in the hot tub in her underwear after Bryce joins her, but gives him absolutely no indication that she wishes to engage in consensual sex. He roughly holds her back, kisses her shoulder and neck and says “we’ll just go nice and easy.” She does not outright tell him, “no”, or attempt to fight him off, she just closes her eyes and waits for the rape to end. Some critics have hailed the scene, calling it an “obvious rape”, showing the scene from Hannah’s perspective, despite her inability to say “no.”

Speaking of the rape Hannah states: “I did not say no or push his hand away. All I did was turn my head, clench my teeth and fight back tears.” This was such a real and raw depiction of rape that I believe is so important for the public to see. Yet, when Hannah returned home after the rape, a close up shows bruises on her back that were caused by Bryce’s fingers, completely destroying the thankfulness I felt for the way the rape was portrayed prior to this. Aside from the inherent violence of a rape, Bryce’s force did not comply with the extent of damage on Hannah’s body.

Film and media continue to fail women and men who are victims of rape. Rape doesn’t have to be dramatic or incredibly violent to be defined as rape. A rape can take place in five minutes and leave absolutely no physical scars.

From my experience, it’s the aftermath that truly hurts. A victim should not have to be subjected to a certain level of suffering in order to be defined as such, and these portrayals of sexual assaults are damaging to both survivors and the general public alike as they warp our perceptions and allow people to get away with rape that does not comply with the narratives that are shown.

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