RALIANCE WATCHING: Representations of Sexual Violence in Media

Blonde woman facing away from camera towards tv on her lounge chair, with remote extended in her hand.

In the last few months, a slate of content has been released about sexual assault, misconduct and abuse. Some of that timing can be attributed to the fifth anniversary of #MeToo—but it also signals our society’s progress in openly grappling with the once-taboo subject.

Openly discussing the various ways sexual assault may look, depicting the varying types of people who have harmed, and telling stories of the wide array of survivors are positive steps in destigmatizing sexual violence. RALIANCE wanted to share some of the portrayals we’ve seen recently and why we like them and recommend you watch them too.

*Please note, this blog contains light spoilers.*

Women Talking (Starring Claire Foy and Rooney Mara) – Inspired by the true story of Bolivian Mennonites, Women Talking follows a group of women who discover that men in their community are drugging and raping them en masse. The story resonates so powerfully with the real-life discussions we have here at RALIANCE because we believe that conversation and direct action can end the systems that continually perpetuate sexual violence in all its forms.

She Said (Starring Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan) – The long-awaited film is based on the true story of the New York Times journalists who first broke the Harvey Weinstein news, and follows the events leading up to the story that shook Hollywood. The film captures the difficulties the reporters experienced trying to corroborate details about the sexual abuse committed by one of the most powerful men in the entertainment industry, showcasing the need to improve accountability.

Luckiest Girl Alive (Starring Mila Kunis) – Protagonist Ani Fanelli tried to forget a traumatic sexual assault and school shooting of her youth, but it comes back to confront her when a documentary crew tries to get her side of the story decades later. This film, based on a book of the same name, did not shy away from depicting a specific graphic scene—a decision that  certainly divided audiences. This film leans on the trope that the survivor gets an opportunity to exact revenge. It can be a relief for some viewers, but often isn’t the reality of many survivors. Nonetheless, the author revealed that she based some portions of this story on her own sexual assault experience and found the opportunity to tell an element of her story cathartic.

The Handmaid’s Tale (Starring Elizabeth Moss) – Now in its fifth season, the plot of the Hulu show focuses on American society following a fictional second civil war. Under this new totalitarian order, fertile women are forced into child-bearing slavery. The series features multiple violent assault scenes. It can be overwhelming to digest and internalize—so we recommend taking frequent breaks. We thought it was interesting that in this depiction, rape is a societal norm, which speaks to how people can easily lose their rights when nobody interrogates power structure.

Tár (Starring Cate Blanchett) – In Tár, a famous fictional musician sees her life unraveling ahead of one of the most significant moments of her career. Unlike the previous picks, this one is not about brute force as much as it is about the stealth abuse of power. Sexual misconduct can look consensual, like the main character, Lydia’s, relations. However, the context of her sleeping with her admiring assistants with the intent to damage their reputations after the affair is over, is an important nuance in what tips the scale from consent to misconduct.

All of the film and television portrayals we highlighted are different, which reflect the reality that every survivor has a different experience. But as evidenced through the work of our RALIANCE grantees, understanding and prioritizing the needs of survivors are critical steps to helping them on their healing journeys. We hope you gain something out of these stories as well.

RALIANCE is a trusted adviser for organizations committed to building cultures that are safe, equitable, and respectful. RALIANCE offers unparalleled expertise in serving survivors of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse which drives our mission to help organizations across sectors create inclusive environments for all. For more information, please visit www.RALIANCE.org.


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