The conversation on consent: Our work with Netflix's Anatomy of a Scandal to inspire change

The conversation on consent: Our work with Netflix’s ‘Anatomy of a Scandal’ to inspire change

By Farah Nazeer, chief executive of Women’s Aid:

We welcomed the government’s recent announcement of a new 24/7 Sexual Violence Support Service to victims in England and Wales, and we are pleased that our colleagues at Rape Crisis will be delivering on this important initiative. The resource has been created off the back of the government’s end to end review of the Criminal Justice System Response to Rape, which uncovered the shocking truth – that there is inconsistent and inadequate support for rape victims across the country.

It is as shocking as it is unacceptable that, after taking the huge and difficult step of coming forward, survivors of rape and sexual assault cannot have confidence in the support they receive, and we know how the prospect of being judged and scrutinised alongside that deter many women from reporting.

While government makes welcome changes to try and improve the response for rape victims, there have been recent heated discussions about consent, prompted by both news stories and by the hit Netflix series Anatomy of a Scandal. 

There are many fans of the show, yet there has been some criticism that the show doesn’t focus on the experience of the alleged rape victim, and focuses on the alleged perpetrator and his life instead. Yet, the reality is that is what too often happens, especially when the alleged perpetrator is high profile.

Prior to Anatomy, there hasn’t been a series that explores consent in a way that’s so accessible, relatable and available to so many people. Earlier this year, the social media reaction to the arrest of Mason Greenwood for the rape and assault of his partner revealed how little the public knows about consent. Some of the comments were naïve and some were just terrifying – and by reading them you can understand why many women who have been raped never come forward for help.

Of course no means no – but consent is much more than that. At its core, consent must be fully informed, mutual and enthusiastic. Rather than glamourising rape, the series showed that incidents that could be construed as salacious and exciting to a jury, were rooted in power and control. I, for one, was horrified by what I saw, which was a man abusing his privileges to take whatever he wanted from women. Sadly, I know from Women’s Aid’s work with survivors that this narrative is not constrained within the bounds of fiction. The not guilty verdict at the end of Anatomy is far from a championing of perpetrators – rather, it shows how far we have to go in regard to the judgements made on women in rape trials, and the reality of how difficult it can be to secure a conviction. It shows how far we have to go to have a decent chance of justice for survivors of rape.

Women’s Aid has been working with Netflix over the past six months to ensure that content not only starts important conversations, but that information and links to support are available to viewers. For Anatomy, we drafted information about consent and coercive control for the Netflix ‘Wanna Talk About It’ website.

Speaking to scriptwriters and actors about domestic abuse, consent, rape and coercive control may not be the first thing you think of when you approach ending violence against women, but at Women’s Aid we know that the stories we tell change the way that we all understand issues and how society responds to victims of abuse and assault.

We hope the news from the government means that there will be more practical help for survivors of rape and sexual assault moving forward, and at the same time we will keep working with TV and film to ensure conversations about violence against women continue – and link through to both the facts and the support information that is desperately needed by many.

© 2022 Women's Aid Federation of England – Women’s Aid is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No: 3171880.

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