Guest post: Rape in The Bill

// 16 April 2009

In this guest post, Amy Clare considers how The Bill tackled a rape storyline

I have to admit it: I’m a fan of The Bill. It’s the only soap I regularly watch, and usually I find it an entertaining hour of moderately thought-provoking, good natured fluff. Last night’s episode, however, was different. I was appalled as a rape storyline unfolded which ended with the rapist being let off without charge and the victim blamed for her attack.

The plot centred on an underage schoolgirl called Lucy, who was raped at a party by a 16-year-old boy. She had also been psychologically bullied for being a virgin by another girl, Misty, who had apparently suggested to the boy that he try to have sex with Lucy, “for a laugh”. After the bullying was uncovered, the boy was let off without charge. But why?

The answer came in a later scene, from a police officer named Milly. “Did you say no?” she asked Lucy. “Did you tell him to stop, or try and fight him off?” (Note: the boy in question was about twice the size of his victim.) As Lucy shook her head, Milly adopted a condescending tone and said: “Well, if you didn’t say no or try to stop him, then…” and the look on her face finished the sentence for her: you probably weren’t raped. This despite the fact that Lucy had already told officers that she was so frightened by the attack that she “froze”. The effect on Lucy was clear – she got upset, and blamed herself: “I should’ve said something!” Then Milly says to Lucy, “You’re not to blame for what happened,” having literally just blamed her.

I found all this pretty appalling. Firstly, the issue of statutory rape (he was overage, she underage) wasn’t even mentioned. Secondly, consent to sex was not given (repeated assertions of “she went upstairs with me” were made by the boy but nope, this doesn’t constitute consent, sorry!) and the boy didn’t seek it. He therefore raped her, and the bully was complicit in it to some degree. Despite this, the only person feeling remorse for the attack was the victim.

Millions of people watch The Bill, some of whom are undoubtedly teenage girls, some of whom may be victims of sexual assault themselves. What are they learning from a storyline like this? That if you don’t say ‘no’ (clearly and loudly of course), and if you don’t try to ‘fight off’ your attacker, then there’s no point reporting an assault because nothing is going to happen? That if you’re being bullied, you can’t also be raped?

As we know, many victims of sexual assault and rape keep silent because it is an extremely frightening situation where there is a very real threat of physical harm. It is sometimes just not possible or practical to say no, or fight. This irresponsible storyline could prevent some such victims from reporting attacks.

I’ve complained to ITV by emailing them on viewerservices@itv.com. I’m considering writing to Ofcom too. Did anyone else see this episode?

Comments From You

Laurel Dearing // Posted 16 April 2009 at 9:43 pm

hmm… well thing is, this is often the case in real police situations. this is how it goes in the real world. they get off and victims are blamed. this would make for an interesting point if they didnt end it there.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 16 April 2009 at 11:10 pm

No I did not watch this particular episode of the Bill but I did watch tonight’s episode and I head a very strange declaration from one of the male detective constables. Part of the storyline involved a male who got drunk and then he, two other men and a young women went to one of the men’s flats.

Whilst the drunken man was veering in and out of unconsciousness, his male acquaitances raped the young woman. The case went to court (what a surprise because this is most unlikely) and the drunken man gave evidence that he was unable to prevent the other men from raping the young woman because he was drunk and in and out of unconsciousness.

The male Detective Constable informed a man suspected of attacking ‘the man who was too drunk to prevent rape’ that yes there was forensic evidence the ‘drunken man’ had been telling the truth. Guess what? The detective said because the drunken man was intoxicated he was incapable of assisting the young woman due his drunken state! Now if a woman is intoxicated she is still judged to have the capacity (and yes that is the key word now capacity) to say yes or no to a man attempting to rape her. But a drunken man is deemed to be incapable of preventing a rape!

As for episode of The Bill – yet another opportunity to blame women and promote myth men and boys must never be held accountable or responsible for their actions because it is women’s and girls’ role to prevent male sexual violence being committed against them.

The bully was complicit but the teen boy rapist was the one responsible for committing this crime because he made a conscious decision to rape the young woman.

Vampyra // Posted 16 April 2009 at 11:31 pm

I didn’t see the episode but rape is a tricky subject made more so by girls being made to feel guilty about their own sexual desires meaning that that there are girls who put themselves in the path of danger. This can be seen as the girls consenting it is not but in some areas of this country there are still enclaves were it is considered that a girl is basically going to lose her virginity by getting drunk and not being able to say no.

It is also considered by some to be ok to add something to the drink to relax her. This is disguesting and I thought I had blown it all out of proportions until I met someone esle at university who had grown up near me and he mentioned this as a fact. He didn’t agree with it either.

The emotions of sex are never really explained to teenagers and it all gets very confussed as what they kids read in teenage fiction gives them very warped views of what is going on. Sex turns into a truma for both sexes with the descent boys petrified that if they appear to be interested they will be seen as a sleeze and girls thinking simultaniously that they are ugly/fat as no boy has tried to touch them and that every male is about to drag them down an ally rape them and then stab them to death.

Dressing up is seen as a come on and not dressing up results in accusations of lesbianism – of course attitudes have hopefully changed on that front since I was at school.

Looking at your post – what the Bill would be implying is that if a girl is unable to say no they are concenting which really is well stupid.

I don’t know how situations like this would be best dewlt with. I have watched girls being ostracised becuase they did take things to court – and friends perants not allowing the friends to give evidence in court becuase they didn’t want it to mar their duaghters reputation etc…

Sorry just babbling now – I’d best go.

Vampyra

Liz // Posted 17 April 2009 at 1:03 am

I didn’t see this episode – it sounds pretty bad, but having said that, survivors of sexual assault are often very badly treated by the police and rapists do get off easily. It doesn’t sound like this episode of the bill was in any way ok, however in some respects showing a world where there was justice for survivors would be misrepresentative.

Becky // Posted 17 April 2009 at 1:15 am

As soon as I saw the synopsis I knew what it would be and I knew that I didn’t want to watch it.

Anna // Posted 17 April 2009 at 2:18 am

yep. though I switched it off the instant it became victim-blaming, too triggering. spent the rest of the night shouting at the TV about how shit the police are. because.. they did exactly the same to me. Victim blaming? yes. Triggering? yes. Accurate.. yes.

For once, I beg, I plead, I am desperate for a storyline in any program in which the attacker is known to the survivor; in which a clear ‘no’ is not given; in which it’s not done down a dark alleyway. But every time that begins to happen, the programme lays the blame at the feet of the victim. And frankly, I’m fucking sick of it.

David Abstract // Posted 17 April 2009 at 2:41 am

“That if you don’t say ‘no’ (clearly and loudly of course), and if you don’t try to ‘fight off’ your attacker, then there’s no point reporting an assault because nothing is going to happen?”

Given the general level of effectiveness the British police show when dealing with rape – as discussed in yesterdays’ post on the same subject – ITV will no doubt say they were merely reflecting reality, and sadly they may have a point.

Flip // Posted 17 April 2009 at 9:11 am

This is taken from the synopsis:

“Millie asked Lucy if at anytime she told Rhys “no”. Lucy didn’t, but realised she should have.”

WHAT??!! She was underage, so any consent shouldn’t be valid anyway, not saying ‘no’ doesn’t mean she meant ‘yes’ and yup, that’s all you need to do to stop unwelcome sexual advances, just say ‘no’ clearly.

bettym // Posted 17 April 2009 at 9:38 am

this is really upsetting, it’s terrible that the writers of a show like the bill could so thoughtlessly perpetuate extremely damaging myths about rape.

i was raped about 4 years ago but the situation was ambiguous enough and my guilt over the incident so great that i still struggle to justify calling it rape now. i certainly never considered reporting it to the police, because, among other reasons, i knew it would be futile and traumatic. i’m not the only person i know who’s been in this situation, either. as well further deterring people from reporting rape, this kind of careless depiction reinforces the idea that the victim is responsible for being attacked.

perhaps the bill was simply trying to show the reality of how rape is handled by the police, but they could have done this and still made a statement against the status quo and in support of rape victims. for example, having one officer supporting the girl in her claims and arguing against the idea that non-consent must be actively expressed.

i haven’t seen the episode but will watch online and get in touch with itv. ofcom sounds like a good plan too.

Amy Clare // Posted 17 April 2009 at 10:35 am

The Bill might have been reflecting the reality of how the police deal with rape, but I agree with bettym, they could have done this with a critical eye and not just merely rehashed myths about rape. The Bill’s writers and producers are capable of being critical of the status quo with other issues, for example immigration (there was a storyline recently where a police officer resigned his job over the issue), so they could have done so with this storyline too. But clearly, the writers saw nothing to criticise – they must believe the myths themselves.

Sam // Posted 17 April 2009 at 11:48 am

I have also written to ITV to complain. I am appalled that they were incapable of being critical of the themes raised in this issue. As someone else said, they have been able to produce reasonably interesting, critical viewpoints in the past but clearly it is far easier just to compound opinion that women and girls who were raped probably “asked for it”, and if they didn’t, they “should have said ‘no'”.

Imagine if the same were true for other crimes. “Oh…you were mugged? But you didn’t shout ‘no’ or physically try to fight off your attacker? Clearly it is your own fault for *giving* them your handbag – you should have made it clearer that you didn’t want them to have it”…

Grrr! These things never come as a shock but I’m never any less infuriated.

Lisa // Posted 17 April 2009 at 12:57 pm

TV (and other media) is a like the Hall of Mirrors at the Fair – it reflects (sort of) the society it portrays but distorts the image in various ways depending on the type of media.

Teenage girls: 1) have many, many more useful activities that are far higher on their list of priorities than watching TV (let alone The Bill); 2) IF they are watching TV (even as older teenagers) an adult is required to discuss storylines such as this one. TV is a constant stream of confusing and conflicting storylines – even adults find it difficult to make any sense of it and 3) on balance it IS important that teenage girls are shown the confusion that their society (including a so-called responsible adult) has about sex. They will then realise that it is not half as straightforward as it is sometimes presented. This is a necessary truth for them to be aware of.

depresso // Posted 18 April 2009 at 1:10 pm

Ack. From what I understand, reporting to the police is often like this scenario. (I don’t have a telly, so obviously couldn’t see it)

What the writers could do, to salvage the situation, is write a follow-up in which the officers receive training in handling rape accusations and directly challenging these harmful assumptions about shouting and fighting and so on. Because it’s a fictional world, if they had the same 16 year old boy up being accused by someone else, and they brought Lucy’s evidence as corroberation, they could challenge the victim blaming, show it as just completely wrong *and* vindicate this sorry episode in one fell swoop.

BareNakedLady // Posted 18 April 2009 at 7:06 pm

Anna – there was a Law & Order: UK [NB: better programme than it sounds] episode recently which meets most of your criteria of “the attacker is known to the survivor; in which a clear ‘no’ is not given; in which it’s not done down a dark alleyway”. I’m finding it impossible to elaborate without spoilers so sorry if this sounds cryptic, but the programme does not blame the victim. In fact the issue of victim-blaming is one of the many aspects of sexual assault which I thought was handled in a very balanced way.

It’s perhaps overdramatic in the way you would expect from a TV drama, but the flipside of that is that the issue is allowed to be complex and not reduced to a simple story. The viewer is not spared.

ITV Player from 6 April should show it I think.

Amy Clare // Posted 21 April 2009 at 3:50 pm

I’ve finally received a response to my complaint from one of The Bill’s producers. Here it is, in full:

ITV have forwarded me your complaint regarding our recent episode.

I am very sorry that you feel as you do. The Bill has a long history of tackling difficult subject matters, and this story formed part of a six part strand in which we look in detail at some of the pressures and issues affecting pupils and teachers in Britain’s schools. This episode intended to take a mature and honest look at a very complex subject, an issue which affects many young people every day. We aimed to show that it is vital that young people take responsibility for their actions, but also that they should have the confidence to be true to themselves, and to always know that there is someone that they can talk to. Our police officers were supportive but had to work to the letter of the law, and therefore had to tell Lucy that, by going along with the plan, she was in effect giving her consent. In our story, Lucy realises this herself, and the episode ended with a sense of hope for Lucy and a stronger relationship with her father. We feel that it is important to be true to the reality of complicated and sad situations like this – and sometimes the law is not able to adapt itself in a way that gives the “happy ending” we all crave. The reality of situations like this is that the CPS would struggle to take the case forward. But our officers cared for Lucy and the relationship that they formed with her helped her to rebuild her confidence.

Of course, none of this changes the fact that you were upset by what you saw, and I am very sorry about that. But I hope that you will appreciate that our intention was to tell a truthful story about a complex subject. We are very proud of the way that The Bill has handled issues like this in its history and are sorry that on this occasion you feel that we didn’t. If you see the episodes which follow it, however, you will see PC Nate Roberts having learned lessons from the case and going on to deliver a powerful result in a separate situation.

Thank you again for your comments.

I particularly liked the part about young people ‘taking responsibility’ (apparently only the victim has to do this!), and the bit where he (it is a he, but I haven’t printed his name obviously) says Lucy ‘went along with the plan’. And apparently, the ‘letter of the law’ doesn’t contain anything about statutory rape any more.

Can’t say I expected anything better, but still, disappointing in the extreme.

Janice // Posted 26 April 2009 at 12:36 am

I was disturbed by this episode, in that it made no mention at all of the giorl being underage. I’m not a lawyer but isn’t that statutory rap[e regardless of consent given?

As for her not giving consent, we were not taliking about a couple of drunk twenty somethings here but a frightenened schoolgirl complying with the wishes of people on of whom had admitted to bullying her into having sex when she did not wish to.

rita // Posted 26 April 2009 at 8:33 pm

I have not watched this episode but i can think of many similar movies or soaps that have made crime look acceptable or victims not get justice. Which probably is a reality. But my experience of watching such has been that instead of educating and empowering me, it has left me more afraid of the reality. I am not sure whether that is a good thing in that i am aware of the truth but cannot really do anything about it.

Kath // Posted 26 April 2009 at 9:44 pm

Thank you for writing this. I saw the episode and felt exactly the same way.

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