“Shows with traumatic plotlines are shifting the national debate”
The Netflix mini-series, Unbelievable, may be an American production, but its story is resonating with women all over the world. Conversation has turned to a discussion of Unbelievable in Cape Town and Johannesburg bars and coffee shops more than once recently. What is your view of dramatising rape stories? Since the #metoo movement began, it has become much more acceptable to bring accounts of sexual abuse and assault out into the open. It’s unsurprising the media has followed suit. At SD Law, we agree with the author of the article below, that…
“…programmes on what consent looks like, on the impact of harassment in public places, the way it forces women to avoid the dark, or take the longer route home…”
are vital to bringing the subject of sexual harassment of women out of the shadows and tackling it head-on. Our government – and everyone in a position of educating or influencing men – needs to do much, much more if South African women are to feel safe. It requires…
“elected leaders understanding their responsibilities, with thoughtful interventions in schools, the welfare system, hospitals. With compulsory sex education that means porn isn’t a child’s default teacher on what sex is, who sex is for…”
We think author Eva Wiseman makes some salient points. Read on and decide for yourself.
TV shows and books dealing with rape and sexual assault make for upsetting and unsettling viewing and reading, but at least the grim stories are propelling us towards the possibility of social change.
We are nearing the finale of season three, when the storyline twists and characters evolve and we are invited to question all we thought we knew. In the same way that it’s harder to care about statistics (like the proportion of rapes being prosecuted in England and Wales dropping to just 1.7%) than stories (like the new book by Chanel Miller, a blistering account of her sexual assault), perhaps it is easier to think of rape in these terms. As a horror show, unfolding.
Yesterday over lunch I read the news that, as Carl Beech was jailed after fabricating claims of historical rape, a former High Court judge concluded that the “instruction to believe a victim’s account should cease.” “Sure,” I said aloud, darkly over tea. This came after the End Violence Against Women coalition (EVAW) pointed out that, judging by the woefully low rate of prosecutions, rape appears to have been decriminalised, an idea that continues to roll around my mind like a marble. Along with the ancient image of a thong.
Where once victims were humiliated in court by defence barristers holding up the underwear they wore on the night of the attack, today they are presented with old text messages or photos, which do the same job as the asking-for-it underwear, but in higher resolution. I spent my journey home reading Miller’s book and that night lay in bed watching Unbelievable, the Netflix true-crime drama based on a teenager whose rape was discounted by detectives. I slept, not well.
Both Miller’s book, Know My Name, and Netflix’s Unbelievable shine a torch on the reality of sexual assault today, at a time when rape charges, prosecutions and convictions in England and Wales are at their lowest levels in more than a decade. Until recently, Miller was known as “Emily Doe”, the pseudonym of the “Brock Turner sexual assault victim”. Her case first became famous because of widespread public criticism of the judgment. Despite there being witnesses to the assault, as Miller lay unconscious behind some bins after a frat party at Stanford University and despite Turner being convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault, he was sentenced to only six months in prison, of which he served three. The judge said he feared a longer sentence would have a “severe impact” on Turner, a “promising athlete”. And second, because of Miller’s powerful, detailed, victim statement. “I was not only told that I was assaulted, I was told that because I couldn’t remember, I technically could not prove it was unwanted. And that distorted me, damaged me, almost broke me.” There are echoes of Miller’s experience in Unbelievable, as there are, inevitably, in all accounts of violence against women. The series opens with Marie’s rape and unravels from there, as minor inconsistencies in the victim’s story lead police to charge her with false reporting, before it becomes clear that the rapist has attacked again.
I’m often left hoppy and bitter when rape is a theme in my nightly telly, another body, another drink. But lately that agitation has moved upwards, to a place where I can recognise it as energy. As something useful, even positive. Horror stories rarely have happy endings, but it does feel, doesn’t it, that a change is due. As grim and worrying as the figures are, the swell of social change, and the new clarity of storytelling, must, surely, drag the rest of the world along with it.
We believe you
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article or Netflix Unbelievable, family attorneys SD Law have deep experience of helping women escape abusive relationships. If you have suffered sexual assault, and have been too scared to bring charges, we will support you through the process and help keep you safe. If you experience intimate partner violence, we can serve a protection order on your partner and help you initiate divorce proceedings, if appropriate. We will connect you to relevant support services. At Cape Town Divorce Attorneys, we will always believe you. Contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a confidential discussion. We can call you back on a safe number.
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