Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

My Response to the Sexual Abuse Story on Emmerdale.

My Response to the Sexual Abuse Story on Emmerdale.
3 March 2015.
By Susan Rose.

Soaps, rather like Marmite, you either love them or hate them. As a bit of an addict myself to Corrie and Emmerdale, and I admit to EastEnders after their recent live and astoundingly BAFTA-worthy performances and script writing, soaps are on the love spectrum for me but I don’t take them seriously. At least I did think that until last week when a new Emmerdale sexual assault story-line opened up for the pretty character of Alicia, played by the talented Natalie Anderson. Alicia, stunningly perfect in every way, is sexually assaulted by Lachlan, played by the young actor, Thomas Atkinson. He is brooding, emotionally dark, sullen and menacing and all kudos to this actor because for one so young, he is really very believable in his role. I see him being snapped up very soon – he has that extra something.

But back to the story. Alicia’s wardrobe is fun, she always looks as though her clothes have been sprayed on, and oh I wish I had a figure like that! Her skirts are short and her tops show off her perfect proportions. And her hair! Oh my, I want her hair! Then we get to her shoes, how can she wear those and not break an ankle? I so envy young women of today; the shops are full of wonderful colours, fabrics and styles and choosing their wardrobe must feel like heaven on earth. Of course, not every woman is built like Natalie Anderson but the fun and interest of putting together a wardrobe and loving what you are wearing can still cover all ages and figure types. I am 61, I have a large bust and so called, “child bearing hips”. I have shoes with heels so high I feel closer to heaven, but I can’t wear them out for fear of falling over! But I love them. Boots too, I have leather over-the-knee boots back from the day and I still love seeing women wear over the knee boots, I think they look sexy.

I think they look sexy. That sentence didn’t say, “I am wearing over the knee boots so you have every right to sexually assault me or rape me, or call me a slag”. No, they look sexy. To me, a man in a dinner jacket especially with his bow tie undone looks sexy. That look doesn’t give anyone permission to defile his body, to me he just looks sexy.

Alicia had been drinking with her sister and friends, she came back home through the shop and noticed the closed sign was up but then she saw Lachlan and he said he had used the toilet. Alicia said that was not a problem. She was tottering on her high heels and holding a bottle of Champagne. She talks generally to him about the shop and says that she is in no shape to serve customers and that he should go home. He had previously bought her a present which she said she couldn’t keep, but she said eventually she would, and she thanked him for his kindness. She asked him to close up the shop and then to bring her a coffee before he left. Instead of the coffee he brings her and himself a glass of Champagne. She passes this by but tells him off when he takes a mouthful. She said also that her husband David would be mad at his drinking it. Again she tells him to leave but he is not taking the hint doing all he can to stay for a bit longer. She tells him to put lemonade in the glass. He walks away. Upon his return, Alicia is asleep on the sofa, he covers her and sits watching her. He whispers to her and in her sleep she puts her arm over his. It is now that he slowly and gently removes the covers and he sexually assaults her. She awakes in obvious distress and screams at him to leave. He does. She later tells her sister and her husband and they call the police. She gives a statement and (we assume) the next day the police visit Lachlan’s house. Lachlan’s defence is that he and Alicia are an item.

As the viewer of this event we know there was no intent in any way on Alicia’s part to seduce Lachlan, be it either by overt or covert means. Alicia sees Lachlan as a friend, a sweet boy. Lachlan on the other hand is obsessed by Alicia. In previous episodes he has taken pictures of her and has collected items of her clothing and has bought her presents. The story is now set.

The script writers now have a wonderful opportunity here in 2015 to approach the subject of sexual assault in a responsible and supportive way. The immediate message being “a woman should be able to wear what she wants without fear of sexual assault”.

Throughout the history of film and television, women have been victims. Think of vampire films, always the pretty one with the low cut dress and heaving bosom has her throat gnawed. Do they ever get away before the first bite or slash the vampire’s bat wings? Not to my knowledge. On the Internet Movie Database, there is a section devoted to movies about Rape/Sexual Harassment/Sexual abuse here, Sexual abuse is big “entertainment”.

Everywhere on film there is ‘woman the victim’, ‘woman the weak’, ‘woman the assaulted’, and ‘woman the abused’. And that is why I “went into one” when the Emmerdale story-line followed the same predictable stereotypical route. The show had the opportunity to approach the sensitive subject of sexual abuse from the victim’s point of view and to show right from the start that her clothes, makeup and hair do not carry a “Rape Me” label. But this didn’t happen. The script writers previously have told us that Lachlan has a history, possibly of stalking, and his mother and grandfather would have automatically been alerted that this could possibly be true. Lachlan’s family scream ‘liar’ and the people in the village are assuming that the affair could be true. The only people on the side of the victim at present are her immediate family.

Blaming the victim endorses the perpetrator’s belief that he was led on, seduced into a relationship with a willing party. Blaming the victim certainly allows the perpetrator to re-offend and with each offence and excuse there is escalation of “courage” in the offence. Does a rapist start with rape or start by surreptitious touching? Sexual abuse is a learning curve for the perpetrator. Emmerdale could have shown total support for Alicia and had the story-line focus on the boy’s past and build up to the present. But they didn’t because I believe that was too difficult. Victim blaming is not only easier and requires less intelligent research, but it is better for viewing figures.

I wonder how many sexual assault victims watched these episodes; how many were in the process of building up the courage to tell someone ... and I wonder how many lost that courage for fear of being accused of lying?

I believe Emmerdale will have upset thousands of viewers; it will have angered thousands too and possibly even lost viewers in disgust. With just a little bit of research and an improved sexual abuse story-line, Emmerdale could have won awards, but instead, sadly, they have won my total lack of respect.

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2 thoughts on “My Response to the Sexual Abuse Story on Emmerdale.

  • Paula says:

    I also watched Emmerdale, and as a victim of Rape myself, and a mother of a victim of rape, these storylines always bring nasty memories. In this case I am hoping, possibly naively, that, as the program makers chose to show us, the viewers that Alicia did not encourage him, and Lachlan had previously committed similar sexual type offences, to illustrate the fact that people are too quick to judge and thus alert us to victim blaming.
    It was very clear with the build up to the case that something would possibly go wrong, because of the boys actions. I saw last nights episode the police chose to drop Alicia’s charges, so I am still hoping that the writers, as they have made it very clear Alicia was not at fault, will find ways of tackling this subject helping to change people’s view on victim blaming. I must admit however I’m not holding my breath.

    • Sue Rose says:

      Hello Paula, I write my reply sending you a hug of support. I wrote the article above.

      Last night when I watched the show, we heard many say in a roundabout way, she deserved this because of the clothes she wore etc and so the victim blaming continues. And, like you I won’t hold my breath for a supportive and positive outcome of this side of the story-line. There were so many ways the end result could be achieved without initially going down the victim blaming route and I find it so sad knowing that today, tomorrow, next year and maybe even into the decades to come – victims of sexual assault still be blamed first ….