Downton Abbey’s Rape Scene in Bad Taste?

Image Courtesy: theguardian.com

Image Courtesy: theguardian.com

After the last episode of Downton Abbey, every one seems to be up in arms over the rape scene included in that episode. Whether it was done for the ratings or out of the need to tackle such a huge subject on national television, we will never truly know. What we do know is that people aren’t happy and I’d like to ask why?

According to an article on the Daily Mail, in the episode that aired on Sunday night, Joanna Froggatt’s character, Anna Bates, was attacked by Mr Green, played by actor Nigel Harman. It sparked more than 200 complaints from hardcore fans of the show to ITV and Ofcom with many saying it was too strong for a Sunday night.

Image Courtesy: telegraph.co.uk

Image Courtesy: telegraph.co.uk

The shows creator, Julian Fellowes has defended the episode by saying, “If we’d have wanted a sensational rape we could have stayed down in the kitchen with the camera during the whole thing and wrung it out.

The point of our handling is not that we’re interested in sensationalizing but we’re interested in exploring the mental damage and the emotional damage.”

Image Courtesy: dailymail.co.uk

Image Courtesy: dailymail.co.uk

Even the actress whose character was raped in the scene has come out to publicly defend the scene, claiming that the show should be respected for their bravery exemplified by tackling such a huge global issue.

“I think he’s done a beautiful job with hitting the right note with it. We all just felt a big responsibility to get it right,” she said.

What I find puzzling is why is every one up in arms about this? Firstly, it is a TV show and if you don’t like what you see you have the option to turn off your television and not watch. Secondly, Downton Abbey is far from the only drama series that has portrayed sexual violence against women in some way shape or form. Grey’s Anatomy, Law & Order (Special Vicitms Unit) and the BBC’s drama series: The Fall are just a few of the several series that portray sexual violence in some  or all of their episodes.

Furthermore, routine sexual abuse of domestic helpers during that era was commonplace, so claims that the producers and directors of the show were not being true to the era are misplaced. According to an article in The Guardian, “in terms of the way female servants were treated by those above and below stairs, it was accurate: many were raped, mistreated or subjected to abuse. This is part of our social history that cannot be ignored”.

So why the huge uproar? I think it’s largely because despite the prevalence of such violence against women all over the world, people are still largely uncomfortable with dealing with this issue when it is right in front of them.

Writing on Twitter, viewer Alexia Light also said that Downton Abbey’s creator Julian Fellowes owed viewers an apology over the “sick and sensationalist” scene.

Another viewer Caroline Farrow described the scenes of sexual violence as “very distressing”.

Sure, television probably gives us a distorted impression of what is truly happening around the world. But, shouldn’t we be acclimatised to crimes of such a nature because we all know it’s happening all around us. No – rape is still a rather hush-hush topic that people see or hear of but don’t speak about. It’s amazing to me how in the century of communication, such an important topic is seen as something we used fear and be unaware of. If we aren’t ready to deal with the harsh reality of rape and sexual violence entails, how can we ever hope for change?

This is not to say that I condone the use of rape and violence against women as a ploy to get ratings up. If this were truly the case – which we will never really know – it is undoubtedly despicable. I despise sexualized content for the sake of entertainment. However, I do believe that “Julian Fellowes has done a fine job of portraying many of the difficulties experienced by women in the early 20th century: death in childbirth, destitution due to illegitimacy, the impact wrought by the horror of war”.

It is extremely important that sexual violence is discussed openly, and if portraying it on television leads to a dialogue, then that can only be a good thing. Like the article in the The Guardian states, “we should not be analyzing the scene itself, but how it is dealt with in the coming weeks. That will reveal more about the writer’s motivations than a moment of high drama ever will”.

What are your views? Do you think the show went too far or are we still not comfortable enough to have an open dialogue about sexual violence?

We have a voice, lets use it.

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