Fictional depictions of sexual violence are everywhere on film, TV and the stage, but do they take the wrong approach?
There has never been any shortage of women getting raped in popular culture, but it seems to have reached a peak recently, from Broadchurch to Game of Thrones. In terms of narrative tropes, it occupies the place that freak memory loss did in the 90s, kicking off all the action and driving it forward; never mind how unlikely that scenario was. The logic seems to go: If you create a drama with a rape in it that doesnt get talked about, that must surely be because the character didnt get raped enough times.
From the hot-button issues of Paul Verhoevens Elle were the rapes gratuitous? Or was the real crime its flagrant waste of Isabelle Huppert? to the complicated disquiet fostered by BBC1s Apple Tree Yard (is it squeamishness? Or something more profound?), images of rape assail us and leave a trail of unresolved conflict. Nina Raines Consent, currently on at the National Theatre, has nothing of the televisual explicitness to which we are accustomed, but tackles head-on the conversations about rape with which we have wrestled so unsuccessfully for so long: how does innocent-until-proven-guilty work, when to assume the innocence of the accused is to presuppose the guilt of the accuser? How do you tackle centuries of victim-blaming without turning it on its head, and trusting the victim from the outset? At the same time, the casual violence of a rape in Game of Thrones becomes ever more ultra, and has such a playful quality that one almost forgets that theres anything to object to.
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