I’ve only just watched BBC 3’s documentary I Never Said Yes by Pips Taylor. I’ve been putting it off mostly because I knew how much it would upset me but actually it disappointed me far more than it upset me. I wasn’t expecting a radical feminist expose on rape but I was expecting something less, well, naive. The questions Taylor posed were interesting:
… what happens when a victim does want to report an attack or rape here in the UK? Do victims have enough support to help them through their ordeal? What is it like to experience our justice system?
But, they were also self-evident questions to anyone who has experienced sexualised violence or has an interest in the criminal justice system and its treatment of victims. It left me wondering who precisely were the target audience of this documentary. I would have thought that the only people interested in watching would have been people in the two former categories. It’s not a subject matter likely to appeal to those with no relevant experience or interest. The mish-mash of survivor stories, interviews and voice-overs was disconcerting and far too Daily Mail rather than in-depth journalism.
The most powerful part of the documentary was the five survivors Taylor interviewed who, simply, deserved more time. There was simply far too much information incorporated into a one hour documentary: the survivors competed with police and attorneys with the focus flipping between personal experiences of rape, to the failures of the criminal justice system and rape myths. It felt like a whistle-stop tour with the survivors merely addendums to to Taylor’s pontificating. They should have been the focus; not Taylor.
Now, I grant you that part of my problem with the documentary is that it definitely fit into the new “shock-doc” television which takes serious problems and bounces them about like balloons in between voice-overs, bad scene settings and “re-enactments”. It was a documentary on rape. It does not need a re-enactment or scenes cut to pop-art to make a “point”. I loathe this type of television as much as I hate reality television as it assumes the audience is too dim to understand what the “experts” say so it requires, usually, someone incredibly chirpy to repeat their words; as if chirpy makes it easier to understand.
What really annoyed me most was Taylor’s handling of an interview with a group of young men. She was asking questions about consent but let the young men bandy about rape myths without really challenging them and, consequently, it ended with the suggestion that men are just “bad” at reading signals. Taylor even repeats this in her BBC blog on the documentary:
The problem that shocked me most of all was young peoples’ attitudes towards consent and what is and isn’t okay. Young people are the most vulnerable, yet it seems that there is a lack of communication amongst them.
Rape is not a communication “problem”; nor is it about inadequate boundaries. Rape is about power and control. Men who rape, rape because they can. Not because they are confused by a woman in a short skirt dancing with her friends. Frankly, if a man is too stupid to understand the difference between consensual sex and rape then they are too stupid to be having sex.
Taylor may have been looking at the devastating consequences of rape myths on the ability of rape survivors to access the criminal justice system but she let some seriously bad myths go unchallenged; as when interviewing a defense attorney who suggested some rapists deserved lesser sentencing because of their “good” character. Technically, she critiqued this theory in one sentence in a voice-over but she never directly challenged the defense attorney. Having a “good” character should not be a defense to rape; nor should it be considered a mitigating factor. A man who rapes can not, and does not, have a “good” character.
And, ending her blog with this:
Although people regard rape to be a depressing subject, meeting the survivors has shown me a hopeful side – that victims can regain power.
Well, its just cringe worthy. Considering the interest in changing and challenging rape laws and rape myths, this documentary could have sparked a series of thought-provoking documentaries exploring the issues in more detail. Instead, it felt like pulp fiction.