Saturday, 20 April 2013
Last night was Friday night, end of the week, traditional time to chill out. Because I'm now prematurely middle aged, I decided to spend mine wearing my slippers and watching some telly. I caught up with some soaps and then decided having been massively enjoying Scott and Bailey on ITV and hearing such good things about Broadchurch, I'd give the new ITV drama The Ice Cream Girls a go.
It was introduced by the continuity announcer as having 'scenes of a sexual nature' but other than that I knew nothing about it. I primarily listen to Radio 4 so never buy a TV guide. I've never heard of the book it's based on. So imagine my shock when those 'scenes of a sexual nature' actually turned out to be a fairly explicit rape.
And by shock, I mean gut wrenching triggering, feelings of revulsion, total panic and a wave of sheer anger. One minute you're lying on the sofa, the next you're plummeting off an emotional cliff and trying not to be sick. I don't expect people to police everything that might possibly be a trigger to each person and in fact, I'm often fine with rape scenes and discussions of rape on something like Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. But the difference there is that I know what to expect on SVU and I can choose whether I'm in the mood for that or watching cats dressed as sharks on a Roomba instead.
I don't particularly want to rehash the trigger warning debate, but last night's lack of warning didn't just upset me. It enraged me. To describe a rape where the woman actually tearfully says 'you hurt me' as a scene of a sexual nature is massively irresponsible. It reinforces so many 'rape myths' once more. Rape is just bad sex that women regret. It's not rape if you've consented before. I't can't be rape if it's your partner, or he tells you he loves you. It can't be rape if you don't scream and kick and fight the whole way through. It's just a scene of a sexual nature.
I wonder how many people watched this disturbing scene last night and instead of learning that rape is degrading, often physically painful and usually perpetrated by someone you know, thought they'd just seen two people have bad sex? I wonder how many men saw an experience they've had and shrugged it off that she's frigid or bad in bed than realising they raped someone? I wonder how many women and girls still couldn't understand why a similar experience left them feeling so bad inside for so long when it was just a 'scene of a sexual nature'?
Pretending rape is just about sex rather than about power has consequences. It normalises abuse, misogyny and violence. It stops rapists and their allies taking responsibility for their actions. It prevents victims from coming forward and healing from their experience, trapping them in shame and silence. It stops the people who sit on juries understanding that it's not as straightforward as 'he said, she said' or women making accusations for the sake of it. It stops the police and CPS seeing that sexual offenders tend not to just target one person just once but often go on hurting and harming people for years.
I'm not suggesting that ITV cause all that singlehandedly, but when you place that in a culture than normalises rape all the time, where cases like Steubenville or Rehtaeh Parsons where even photographic evidence, confessional Tweets and jokes about participating in a gang rape, at best result in a jail sentence measured in months or at worst the suicide of a young woman, it is just one small building block in making sure sexual violence is ignored time and time again.
I was so enraged by ITV's dismissiveness last night that I got up this morning and sent an email of complaint before I'd even made my first cup of tea. I could just about understand not mentioning the scene at all in the continuity announcement, but to deem that people are more worried about smut than watching a woman being brutalised is bloody insulting. Especially when I've heard ITV warn about 'scenes of sexual violence that some viewers may find distressing' before on the Carla Connor Coronation Street storyline. I don't know if the fact The Ice Cream Girls was post watershed made the difference, but it certainly made my blood boil.
I'll let you know what kind of response I get from ITV. My money is on a variation of 'sorry you were offended' and 'bloody hysterical women' but who knows...