First off, I will admit that I was somewhat sceptical going into ‘Is This Rape? Sex On Trial’, a show where teenagers watch a realistic drama about a sex crime, if it was even a sex crime to begin with. Not because of the opinions regarding victim blaming ‘boys will be boys’ excuses or justification of being drunk to inhibit disgusting behaviour, but because when educational teen drama shows are made, most of the time they seem to fail to really represent how teenagers behave. Thankfully on this occasion I was pleasantly surprised.
The show started with a large group of teenage boys and girls entering a big manor house, where they were told they would be watching a three part drama about a boy who commits a sexual act upon a girl at a party. At this party, his friend gets intimate with his ex girlfriend of three months in the toilet, which obviously he finds hurtful, and proceeds to go downstairs and get more drunk. As everyone leaves, he is still drunk downstairs and asks his ex to sleep on the sofa with him. After being somewhat reluctant the first few times, she agrees anyway. While she is trying to sleep he begins kissing her and eventually gets on top of her, then proceeds to zip his trousers down and get her to perform fellatio on him.
After every section, the party, the defence and the prosecution, the teenagers would go away and be given different questions to answer, which then becomes the main focus of the programme.
After the first section I was surprised to find that while a fair few boys believed that it was sexual assault rather than rape, a lot of the girls believed that it wasn’t anything serious because it would be easier for the man in question to ‘get on with it’ rather than struggle, which in their eyes isn’t the same as rape. It is shocking to think that young girls believe that this is normal behaviour, and letting an unwanted violation of their bodies happen rather than fighting it is the same as consent.
The BBC 3 presenter then brought in a businessman who was accused of rape, who broke down into tears while telling his story about the potential jail sentence he faced, how he now has to approach women with extra caution, and how being shunned from the public was more damaging then any legal implications around him. Feminists and people who agree with the ethics of feminism such as myself will have been no doubt dubious as to why this was included in the show, as it could be interpreted as siding with the perpetrator rather than the victim. Furthermore, false rape statistics are incredibly low in the western world, and even then there have been tales of women who have had to retract their statements out of pressure and shame which fit into that low 8 per cent, according a 2005 Home Office Report.
However, after the prosecution part of the drama finishes, 87 per cent of the teenage group believed that the girl was raped, especially after it is revealed in a courtroom that the boy texts his friend to say that “she didn’t really seem like she was into it, but hey, a party is a party”. This also brought up the discussion of the teenagers explaining about friends who have been in similar situations, as well as victims of rape itself, which is far more important than simply showing a generalised drama that may not even apply to you. They also brought in a rape victim from university who explained that she eventually went to the police two years later despite the social pressures of not being believed.
Overall this show was an interesting insight into the desperate need for consent to be taught in schools at a young age. Both boys and girls in this show still had certain attitudes that would be constituted as victim blaming, such as ‘she didn’t say no so that must have meant yes’, and ‘she invited him into the bed so that must have been yes’. Others believed that rape was too harsh of a word and that despite what the boy did, he did not deserve to spend seven years in prison as a result of being foolish and misinterpreting signs.
It is the education system, and to an extent our own, to teach young people about the clear rules of consent in order to prevent these sorts of situations happening, and to abolish the rules of there being a grey area on the subject matter.