A person is raped every six minutes in the UK.
So begins Channel 5’s new documentary, Raped: My Story. Many have heard these statistics before, but they are never any less saddening: an estimated 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales annually; only 15% report the crime to the police; 3.2% of rapes result in a guilty conviction.
Raped: My Story, airing Wednesday 22nd November at 9pm on Channel 5, explores the stories behind these statistics, recounting the experiences of 10 survivors who choose to forgo anonymity and speak publicly about what happened to them. The result? A film that is moving, anger-inducing, illuminating, and painful.
We have heard a lot about sexual violence recently, as countless women have illuminated the scale of harassment and assault across diverse workplaces. Raped: My Story brings a new medium to this testimony. In presenting us with a feature-length film composed purely of rape survivors speaking directly to the viewer to recount their experience, this film stands out for its heart-breaking authenticity and its desire to get to grips with a subject matter that is commonly silenced.
At its core, rape is a manifestation of sexual violence and an abuse of power. This is something that the documentary makes abundantly clear. Without straying towards graphic details, director Catey Sexton captures this element that too often gets lost in the rhetoric surrounding rape. Speaking of sex, even ‘non-consensual sex’ (an expression that has been used with disturbing frequency in the aftermath of the Weinstein allegations) normalises the act, as sex is a common activity that many of us engage in and carries connotations of intimacy, passion, and desire. Rape is none of these things.
A number of survivors’ stories convey this violence with particular strength. Whether through drugging, coercion, or sheer force; whether in the context of a marriage, a friendship, or a first date; whether the victim is a man or a woman, Sexton reminds us that forcibly penetrating another person is a physical assault on their body. The common motif of male control becomes all the more apparent with each story, as details spanning decades and an entire country begin to converge. Despite differences in the details, the core element of male dominance over another’s body, present in each narrative, is woven through the film to paint a picture of unbearable pain and injustice.
The deprivation of bodily autonomy that characterises rape is traumatic. The film’s speakers react in different ways to the realisation that they have no control over what a man (or men) has decided to do to them: they describe resisting, panicking, and being paralysed with fear. Fundamental to rape is the extreme objectification of another person to the point where that person’s wishes and desires are actively ignored and dismissed. Women systematically experience this ritual dehumanisation, as the continued emergence of #MeToo statements demonstrates, and the root of this problem, as with rape, is the removal of agency. Another person becomes an object, a body to which men are entitled for visual or physical pleasure. Rape is about control and an assertion of power, and patriarchal norms dictate that men have power. As one of the film’s survivors puts it, “it [is] degrading to the extreme.”
Given the horror of the act, why do so few rapes result in conviction? This question, implicitly asked at the start of Raped: My Story when we are informed that only one survivor sees a guilty verdict, is unpacked throughout. The reasons for such injustice are multiple but, crucially, justice cannot be served for the vast majority of those who suffer rape because many cases are simply not heard in court. Through its 10 stories, the film explores why this might be; shame, stigma, and a criminal justice system that - despite progress - is unfit for purpose in this domain are all brought to the fore. Raped: My Story lays bare the raw injustice of social structures and cultures that turn rape victims into the guilty party.
Underlying all of these elements is a broad societal refusal to take the problem of rape seriously, to acknowledge how endemic it is, or to face up to the either the root or the implications of male sexual violence. This is why even speaking about rape is so difficult for many who go through it, and why thousands of survivors do not ever speak of their assaults. Fear of not being believed is repeatedly heard in Sexton’s film. We need to have a nationwide conversation about rape to change the culture surrounding it and to stop it. This can only happen if we listen to people who are willing to tell their stories.
I am one of the 10 people in the documentary. The distress of filming and the accompanying feelings of guilt, shame, anger, and embarrassment throughout, were difficult to process. Rape is not over in a night. It endures long after the fact.
Raped: My Story was created by providing 10 people who have experienced rape with an important platform to speak about a topic that is socially taboo yet horribly prevalent. Sexton gives us a voice, and in doing so liberates stories that typically are shunned, silenced, and shamed. Contributing to such an important project was both difficult and cathartic; I am glad I spoke out and hope that it can contribute to meaningful discussion. Indeed, I chose to be part of this film because I believe in its message. It has the power to speak to us all.
97,000 rapes each year are 97,000 too many. Male sexual violence is endemic, and stopping it will require a societal, cultural, and mental shift surrounding rape. This film and the 10 stories in it are a good place to start.
Raped: My Story will be broadcast on Wednesday 22nd November, at 9pm on Channel 5.
If you need to speak to someone about an assault or rape, Rape Crisis Centres are wonderful places.
Useful helplines and websites:
- Victim Support - Visit victimsupport.org.uk or call 0808 168 9111 Sexual Abuse Referral Centres - Find a SARC
- Rape Crisis - Visit rapecrisis.org.uk or call 0808 802 9999 The Rape and Abuse Line - Visit rapeandabuseline.co.uk or call 0808 800 0123 (answered by women) or 0808 800 0122 (answered by men).