We need to talk about rape culture

By Neha Rassal


In recent years the number of TV shows tackling rape have increased. / مٶسسة میري – Wikimedia

Rape culture.

We all go about throwing the phrase in the air every time rape is discussed, not realising that by doing so we might be paving a way for the culture to thrive. The term ‘rape culture’ was coined in the 1970s by American feminists. It describes the normalization of sexual assault and victim blaming.

TV dramas have come under a lot of fire over how they handle rape. The depiction of the violent crime is often accused of being sexualised and, perhaps in some twisted way, even glorified. And over the last few years the number of TV shows tackling rape-related storylines has increased.

Jessica Jones, the lead character in the Netflix superhero show of the same name, was forced to sleep with the man who had the power to control her mind. Ross Poldark forced himself on his ex-girlfriend in a fit of anger in Poldark. BBC’s four-part drama, Apple Tree Yard, was criticized by viewers for airing a violent rape scene in which the protagonist is slapped and then raped by her attacked in an office.

The rape of Sansa Stark on her wedding night in the fifth season of Game of Thrones was met with an outrage by both the critics and the audience, including the American politician and former senator Claire McCaskill, who tweeted that she was “done” with the show after that particular episode had aired. Of course, this is hardly the first rape on Game of Thrones; the show has often raised a few question marks over its portrayal of violence against women.

Broadchurch is the latest show to tackle the issues of sexual assault in its latest series that airs this Monday. The creator, Chris Chibnall, has said that rape will not be used as a plot device on the show, and whether Broadchurch will succeed in a true depiction of the sensitive subject is yet to be seen.

According to Rape Crisis, approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped every year. The number of victims in the United States is over 300,000 per year.

With the victim rate so high, is it wise to show rape on television shows? Probably not.

Should they stop doing it? Absolutely not.

The problem lies not in showing rape on television, but in the way it is shown. It is often sexualised and turned into a act of passion rather than the monstrous act that it is. But if it is depicted right, it might get a much-needed dialogue started.

Rape is still a taboo subject. Most of the people shy away from addressing it. Many girls in developing countries across the globe are not even told what it is, not taught how to protect themselves. Many victims hide their experiences out of shame, or because the society will blame their drinking or their clothes for what happened. Every time the word rape comes up in a conversation, someone claims that talking about it enables the rape culture.

It does not.

What the society needs is to have a serious talk about rape – about the trauma, the psychology and the consequences. Such a debate will not only raise awareness and teach women and men how to protect themselves, but also help alter the rape culture. The only way to highlight what is wrong – with the depiction of rape on TV and in the way audiences are made to think about it –  is to address it with care. After all, the only way to end the darkness is to shine a light on it.