• Mon, Nov 8 2010

Private Practice Graphic Rape Scene: Is Sexual Assault Made for TV?

Private Practice's recent rape scene was more graphic and realistic than most, but does sexual assault belong on primetime TV?

For better or worse, sexual assault is all over media: When we sat down to think of famous rape scenes on film and TV, we came up with so many, we made a second list. Typically, rape is either depicted as a terrible, violent crime, or glorified as part of a sexual fantasy. The former scene type made its most recent appearance on ABC’s Private Practice last Thursday, when Charlotte King (sexology specialist, Chief of Staff at St. Ambrose Hospital, and fiancee to Cooper) was violently raped in her office by a mentally disturbed man.

Network television can only get so graphic (even after 10 p.m.), and, as a nighttime soap opera, Private Practice does have a certain unrealistic-drama-quota to meet, but the episode did attempt to reveal the complicated and traumatic after-effects of rape. As New York Magazine‘s Martha Nussbaum noted, the show at least attempted to give a more authentic depiction of rape than we’re used to seeing on TV:

In the episode’s climactic sequence, Charlotte confronts Addison, who wants her to file charges. Charlotte contrasted her rape with rapes in ‘made-for-TV movies’. In these gauzy victim narratives, she says mockingly, the woman rocks in the shower crying, and when the rape happens, her eyes go blank so she can go somewhere else. ‘It’s nothing like that,’ she says bitterly. ‘It’s dirty and sweaty and he licks your face and he wipes himself off in your hair and when you try to scream he punches you so hard you see God’.

Charlotte vehemently refuses a rape kit and will not report the crime (she tells the police the guy just beat her up and stole her wallet), but she’s left in a broken physical and mental condition – and so are those around her. Charlotte’s fiance, Cooper, who had been drinking in a bar, requires time to sober up, plus emotional soothing (which somehow she’s strong enough to provide), while Charlotte’s friends and colleagues struggle to help her through the trauma as she pushes them away.

The show’s candid treatment of rape has gotten a considerable amount of attention and praise, but some viewers say they don’t think rape is a crime that was made for TV. One commenter on Nussbaum’s New York Magazine post says, “I would rather not be confronted with all this via television, which ultimately is about manipulating people and getting them to buy things they do not need. The medium will always result in a very sullied message.”

What do you think? Are TV execs brave to take on rape in an honest way, or are they just taking advantage of a very provocative subject? Take our poll:

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  • Sarah

    I haven’t seen this show, but it sounds like the creators offered a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to portraying rape. I’m glad they chose to address some of the realities, but I do think it’s irresponsible to show the rape victim refusing to press charges and offering her boyfriend comfort. Why isn’t he comforting her? And why couldn’t the makers of this show take a perfect opportunity to encourage more women to speak out about the violence they have had to endure by having the victim decide to go to the police? I’m also not sure that I think there is a place for the actual visual depiction of violent and graphic rape scenes on TV. What is the point of them?

  • emncaity

    Uh…well, that’s not always how rape happens, Ms. Nussbaum. Sometimes the guy thinks he “loves” you, and he’s just “overcome with passion,” and just “can’t help himself,” and is “just being a guy,” and “what’s the problem anyway?”. That might not involve a punch, or screaming, or any of the things you described. But it’s still rape, and it’s _not_ sex.

    Having said that, it does sound like the show paid some attention to the whole storyline, tried to get it right (wrt this kind of rape), and didn’t treat it as a fantasy where the guy forces himself on the girl, and after initial resistance, she discovers the glories of letting herself go and submits to him, orgasmically, as in so many depictions of forced or coerced sex in mass culture.

  • Amber

    What’s the point of a rape scene in anything? At least this show attempted to show a reality-based depiction of rape and not one where the woman was “asking for it.” Or, as Blisstree would call it, one where “no really means yes.” The question really is, what is the point of this site posting this article when it clearly couldn’t care less about actual rape or the reality of it? Where’s thelist of the top ten scenes of women being beaten in films? Or “When a Bad Touch Feels Really Good: Top 10 Films Featuring the Molestation of Children”?