Private Practice's rape episode was a ratings success: up 44 percent, the best since January. One blogger called it, perhaps hyperbolically, "likely the most realistic depiction of rape in media history." So was it awareness-raising or sexual assault as entertainment?
In the last episode, the strong-willed character of Charlotte was raped by a mental patient in the hospital. In the episode that aired last night, Charlotte told only one person, Addison, that she had been raped, and refused a rape kit. (She did, however, keep her underwear in a locked drawer, so there may still be evidence). To everyone else, she insisted she had only been mugged. Meanwhile, the mentally ill rapist is apprehended by police and talks about how the bitch had it coming to her.
Actress KaDee Strickland had worked extensively with RAINN and met with rape victims prior to shooting. "The thing I've learned from my work with survivors is that they want this," she said. "The only way people can confront their feelings is to see that there are more outlets for their stories being told."
The issue of Charlotte's refusal to report was a concern of several commenters on fan sites (and in the show as well, when Addison told her a refusal to report could harm other women, as seen in this clip). Here's a representative one:
I was really bothered by the fact that a seemingly strong, independent woman was so afraid that other's opinions of her would change that she didn't report the rape. I feel that TV has a responsibility to viewers. A viewer, young or old, male or female, may take from this that reporting a rape is not worth it, that if you are raped you report it then everyone around you will treat you differently, etc. Such a large number of rapes go unreported as is, there doesn't need to be anything else to encourage women or men to keep silent.
She also says to her fiance (who only thinks she's been mugged), "If you call me a victim again, this marriage is off."
Although we see plenty of rapes reported and investigated on crime shows, there's reason to believe that lately, not reporting has been a popular TV trope. Says a blogger on E!:
This episode has been called part of a rape-on-TV trend, and we did notice that all three recent TV rapes-Gemma (Katey Sagal) on Sons of Anarchy, Naomi (AnnaLynne McCord) on 90210 and Charlotte on Private Practice-share some similarities. Notably, we find ourselves wondering why all three are stories about strong, no-nonsense ladies who generally dominate their environments, and why, in all three cases, the rapes went unreported? Is that just a more dramatic story to tell, or is there something in our culture that doubts women who suffer rape and then speak out boldly—but trusts in women who keep their silence?
There is certainly something in our culture that doubts women who speak openly about their rape, but in this case, there was no doubt left by the fact that in the closing sequence, we actually see what happened to Charlotte: It was that aspect that troubled Emily Nussbaum, although she was otherwise impressed:
There may simply be no way to solve this dilemma: No matter how well-motivated, a rape scene is a sex scene, and TV shows are fantasies. This one wasn't sexy, but there was part of me that didn't want them to show it at all.
But there was a sort of meta-awareness on the part of Shonda Rhimes and crew — about the way the representation of rape has been fixed on television, as seen in the above clip.
The implicit idea is that we shouldn't be looking away from horrific events. We also learn in the episode that Charlotte is a recovering addict and thus can't have local anesthetic for her wounds. This means that she has to endure all of the pain of her stitches, and the viewer watches her stifle her screams. Is this what it takes to understand the pain of sexual assault, or is this what jaded viewers need to entertain them?
The Morning After: Let's Talk About Private Practice [E]
Pop Tarts Exclusive: 'Private Practice' Star KaDee Strickland Met With Rape Victims in Preparation for Traumatic Assault Scene [Fox News]
'Private Practice' Ratings Surge for Assault Episode [THR]
Nussbaum On Last Night's Private Practice Rape Episode [NYM]