We’re calling out violence to women on screen because it has become so overused, and so normalised we’re increasingly desensitised to seeing it. With the upsurge in thrillers from all over the world available from different networks, we’ve come to accept that a large proportion of it will depict women being terrified, assaulted, raped and killed by men. This has got more graphic over the years, and images of women being subjected to every kind of fear, pain and horror and torture are considered everyday fare and unremarkable. On screen, serial killers are everywhere, and the cops who hunt them down are the new everyday heroes.
But what happens in popular culture badly contorts what happens in real life. There are very few serial killers at large in the world at any time, but some cops meet one in every episode, often local to their patch. The perpetrators of most women attacked on screen are dangerous psychopaths or sadists, usually strangers. In real life, women are more likely to be raped or killed by a man they already know. But that wouldn’t make for such good drama, would it?
Does it matter if fiction is so different from reality? We think so. Because the prevalence of the kind of violence to women we see on screen seeps into common ideas of who rapes and who kills, who are the victims, and in what kind of circumstances. This in turn influences the understanding of rape, murder, domestic abuse and psychological violence that police investigate, in real life. Internalised beliefs known as rape myths affect whether women are believed, what gets prosecuted, and the judgement of both judges and juries, who fail all too often fail to convict.
So let’s get at some of the facts – the reality of violence to women in real life, in figures. The truth about justice, or its lack.
Then let’s talk about why, in film and TV, those facts are so creatively concealed and replaced with such compelling alternatives that we sit and watch female characters being realistically hurt, for our viewing pleasure, week after week, night after night, hour upon hour.