Elizabeth is a woman of privilege – and also a survivor of domestic violence

Elizabeth and Ross Poldark kiss “passionately” or “violently?”

For those who have no experience with domestic violence or sexual assault, I think we have a preconception of what a typical rape victim might be. This person is female and she comes from poverty. We might assume the typical rape victim is not well educated and perhaps even a bit simple. She is a loose woman dressed in revealing clothing who flaunts her body to whomever is around to look. We tell ourselves these lies so that we can justify feeling safe in a dangerous world where any woman can become a victim of domestic violence at the hands of even men who profess to love her.

Our preconceptions of what a “rapist” and a “rape victim” look like have certainly been challenged lately in media. In The Handmaid’s Tale and Bridgerton, there are scenes of white women raping black men. These scenes flip the typical rape narrative on its head. The trope of black men violating white women was a plot point in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) wherein attorney Atticus Finch fiercely defends a black man from false charges of sexual assault. Reign depicts what rape is like for a woman of power and influence at the behest of another powerful woman. Starz show Outlander portrays rape from several perspectives in thoughtful and thought-provoking ways and always with a great deal of sensitivity to the survivors they surely know are watching.

And if you watch any of these scenes, they will hit each viewer differently. For some, the signs of sexual assault are obvious, for others they are more subtle, and for some they are not even present. This has led to some interesting and important debate about what constitutes a sexual assault. Do a web search for any of these scenes and you will find essays written that argue for each side. At first, I admit feeling offended that others wanted to argue the scenes (which were clearly depicting rape to me) were depicting consensual sex to other viewers. However, after some consideration, it is telling how much rape is imbued into our current culture.

In the above photograph, that moment looks like a depiction of violence to me. The way he grabs her face – fingers digging into her cheeks. However, some might argue her eyes are closed instead of wide open in horror and shock.

How we view rape matters. It matters to victims. It matters to perpetrators. It matters to the future victims if those perpetrators are not prosecuted and locked away. It matters to men, women, boys, girls, the cis-gendered and trans gendered alike. We can all be victims. We can all be perpetrators. And we can all do our part to fight rape culture when and where we see it. A good start is recognizing it and calling it what it is. Rape is not about unbridled passion. Rape is about control. Rape is the perpetrator taking something that they have not right to take. The consequences of rape last for generations.

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