Rape in the Media: A Survivor's Perspective

Illustration by Juliet Halasz

Nothing could have prepared me for how much my life would change after I was sexually assaulted. In an instant, I felt as though my body and mind had been taken over by a stranger, an imposter – any remnants of my previous self lost to the person who had so cruelly stolen them from me. Against my will, this imposter was ripping my friends, family and academic prowess, the very characteristic that I built my personality on, away from me. At my lowest, I saw no future and no option but to give up. It took an immense amount of determination, an amazing support group and learning to truly love myself in order to get to where I am now.

Time really does help to heal wounds, and I have made so much progress in the last two years towards being more stable and content. Things that would have made me sob uncontrollably in the middle of the street, or refuse to leave my bed for days on end, no longer triggered a raw emotional response from within me. However, there are still specific things that have the capacity to tap into those feelings that I have fought so hard to tame and control, especially when I encounter them unexpectedly. The worst of these, by far, is seeing sexual assault in films or television.

Watching television shows and films is something that I have always loved. Most of my adolescent years were spent at somebody’s house binge-watching a boxset or daring ourselves to watch increasingly intense and gory horror films. It had become a ritualistic activity, something that for me was the real highlight of socialising. Once I started dating, watching a film became the perfect ice-breaker and continued to be my favourite ‘date night’ activity into my twenties. With a particular penchant for gritty psychological thrillers, it took me a while to realise that my usual scope of potential films to watch of an evening would be severely limited.

I will always remember the moment that I came to this realisation: unable to sleep one night, I mindlessly flicked through the channels and stumbled across Thelma and Louise, a classic that I had been meaning to watch for years. Completely in the dark about the plot, I was surprised by the narrative revolving around the rape of one of the women from the very start of the film. Alone and vulnerable, I tried to put it out of mind but I couldn’t – to be taken by surprise like that was a cruel reminder that I could no longer live my life freely, and made me feel so foolish and naïve.

It made me think back to those over-the-top horror films that my friends and I would struggle through, and how many of those likely had themes of sexual assault in them. If I were to watch a film with my friends or partner now and sexual assault were to come up, would I laugh it off? Leave the room? Would it render me helpless and stop me from being able to do anything with my day, my week? The last option was by far the most likely, and the worst part – I had no idea how to prepare myself for such a situation. Without ruining the plot of every film or avoiding films altogether, I was utterly vulnerable to anything that would flash onto the screen.

With the risk of my mental stability crumbling yet again, I knew that I had to do something – and that was when Unconsenting Media was introduced to me. I hadn’t ever heard of a resource like Unconsenting Media, and yet it seemed strange that nothing similar has existed – with the number of people that experience sexual assault and harassment, it seemed like a resource that would not only be useful, but deeply needed by survivors and their loved ones. The ability to check in an instant whether a film features themes of sexual assault without ruining the plot has allowed me to stay in control of my mental health and emotions, and reduce the anxiety around going to the cinema with family and friends unaware of what I might see. It granted me the peace of mind that I needed, and gave me the freedom and ability to love films again.

Unconsenting Media is an invaluable resource that has given me the opportunity to protect myself from triggering content with just a few clicks, and has no doubt helped in my recovery process. To all survivors and their friends and family, Unconsenting Media can change the way that you interact with films and television, and really can be make a huge difference in moving past such a traumatic event.

6 years ago by Rachel Parkes