The Representation of Sexual Assault in Popular TV Shows
Sexual assault is still a highly-misunderstood crime with taboos, myths and stigma preventing victims from speaking out and getting the help they need. Representation in popular TV shows can be a powerful tool for raising awareness, challenging misconceptions, and promoting understanding of an issue which is still largely unacknowledged in our culture.
Unfortunately, many popular TV shows have demonstrated damaging stereotypes about victims of sexual assault, and in some cases have managed to trivialize the heinousness of the crime. A common example of this can be found in a scene in the popular show, The Big Bang Theory, in which the main character Raj Koothrappali is assaulted by a female character while he was unconscious. This depiction of the crime only reinforced the myth that male victims cannot be assaulted because they are unable to provide valid consent due to their lack of consciousness. Additionally, the scene served to invalidate the experience of real-life male rape victims by placing the blame on the woman and laughing off the experience, rather than portraying the incident as a serious crime.
Fortunately, there have been some positive examples of sexual assault in popular TV shows. For example, in the show, 13 Reasons Why, Hannah Baker’s story of her assault was depicted realistically and sensitively, bringing the issue to the forefront of public discourse. This provided an important platform to explore topics such as victim blaming, violence, harassment and rape culture through an honest and unflinching lens. Additionally, an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit featured an ambitious young woman who had been sexually assaulted while working on a campaign with a powerful politician, and the show handled the issue of power dynamics and consent in a nuanced and informative way.
The Impact of Representation
The power of television shows to provoke conversations about sensitive topics like sexual assault should not be underestimated. Properly presented and executed, TV shows can act as a catalyst for awareness and change, inspiring people to think about and discuss the social, cultural and political implications of the crime. By recognizing the role these shows can play in helping to foster understanding, we can move forward in our fight to put an end to sexual assault and ensure victims of the crime are believed and taken seriously.
• Learn more about the laws around consent and sexual assault
• Educate yourself on the myths and facts relating to sexual assault
• Discover safe and confidential ways to report sexual assault
• Respect the experiences of other survivors
• Speak out against victim blaming, shaming and misconduct
• Support organizations fighting to end sexual assault