16/04/2017 12:20 BST | Updated 16/04/2017 12:20 BST

Broadchurch And The Rape Reverie

Warning: May contain spoilers

Boasting multiple BAFTAs, and more British stars than Somerset has ciders, the phenomenon that has been ITV's Broadchurch is poised to reach its explosive final dénouement this week. After two series of child homicide, filial bereavement, and judicial miscarriages, writer, Chris Chibnall's third outing has paved a drastically different path, recounting the rape of Trish Winterman (Julie Hesmondhalgh) by a serial attacker.

As Laura Bates has highlighted, it is a storyline that is "far from new territory for television". From the gratuitous sexual violence of Game of Thrones to its titillating presentation in The Fall, sexual violence has become a sadistically glamorous device for numerous writers. Far from propounding such a bejewelled, masochistic fantasy however, Broadchurch has examined the naked, brutal trauma of rape's reality.

"I'm glad they went for someone who looked like me - someone as old as me, instead of a pretty young girl", said 47-year-old Hesmondhalgh. "I get sick of the way rape is portrayed on television and in films. It's usually someone young and attractive. It makes the audience think there's something sexual about it. But rape is an act of violence against women."

Yet, this third series does not only seek to analyse the individual distress of the victim, but provokes a searing condemnation of modern masculinity. By incorporating debates regarding pornography, victim shaming, and obsession, alongside a cast of sexually-frustrated male perverts, Broadchurch conjures a claustrophobic realm of masculine entitlement, in which rape is not merely an individual condition but a crisis of masculinity.

Since its coinage in the 1970s, the concept of 'rape culture' is one that has been endlessly debated, dissected and half-heartedly resolved. Marshall University has defined it as: "an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalised and excused in the media and popular culture."

Certainly, the evidence is disturbing. According to Rape Crisis, approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales every year. Of those, only 15% will choose to report to the police. Only last month in Italy, a man was acquitted of sexual assault charges because his victim did not cry out or "[betray] emotion" during the ordeal. Meanwhile, the so-called leader of the 'Free World' is a figure who has openly bragged about his sexual dominance, accused of at least 24 counts of sexual misconduct.


Image: Flickr

The evidence for rape's stigmatisation is insurmountable across the globe, yet, less analysed, are the motives behind its existence. For numerous academics, rape has largely emerged from a root culture endorsing "the domination and objectification of women", in which women's bodies are perceived as mere battlegrounds for male supremacy.

Nowhere is this splayed more prevalently than within popular culture; only this year, critically-acclaimed films, Nocturnal Animals and Elle have been slammed for their masochistic depictions of brutal sexual assault. Meanwhile Huffington Post journalist, Zeba Blay, has asked of the graphic Netflix phenomenon, 13 Reasons Why: "What does it mean if we can only connect with the pain of rape victims by watching that pain played out so? What do these scenes achieve that couldn't be achieved with their absence?"

Within the media, rape is ubiquitous and pervasive, its victims faceless and fetishized while the perpetrators - the brooding Jamie Dornan (The Fall), or sadistic Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Nocturnal Animals) - are sexualised and sultry, irrevocable wank fodder for their smitten viewers.

Within Broadchurch, however, the suspects are not sophisticated psychopaths or brooding Lotharios: they're obsessive shopkeepers (Lenny Henry), porn-addled taxi drivers (Sebastian Armesto), and unfaithful mechanics (Mark Bazeley). They're sleazy ex-husbands (Charlie Higson), cocky teenage boys (Chris Mason), and convicted predators who can't comprehend consent (Jim Howick). They're achingly unglamorous, and insidiously ordinary.

"We can't let him win, Mum," exclaimed Winterman's daughter during Episode 7. Yet, her implicit message could not be clearer: we can't let him - the sexualised cultural archetype, the untouchable politician, or the perpetrator escaping justice - garner any more legitimacy.