LONDON – The media, whether that be social, film, the news or art, is meant to reflect the society we live in. With a rise in awareness of sexual assault, it is no surprise that this topic has appeared more and more on our screens.
But questions can be asked about the nature of such representation, whether it is accurate and to what extent it helps solve or perpetuate the problem.
In the last decade we have seen movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp spread across Hollywood, resulting in the conviction of high-profile celebrities such as Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby. Cosby’s has since been overturned.
Such movements have been criticized as performative and just a publicity stunt. Author Katie Roiphe described it as “Twitter Feminism” to Harpers Bazaar.
Others, however, see it as a large step forward in societal awareness.
As #MeToo founder Tarana Burke told the Guardian, it gives a platform to “all the people who are not rich, white and famous, who deal with sexual violence on everyday basis” to discuss it.
Not only has the media been raising awareness through social movements, but in the last year we have seen a rise in the discussion of sexual harassment and rape within film and television.
In 2020 Michaela Coel wrote and starred in the HBO series, “I May Destroy You.”
This groundbreaking show told the story of a woman who had been drugged and raped and the subsequent journey she and her friends went through. The series resonated with women across the globe, and sparked conversations about what is sexual assault and the saddening truth about how common it is in all walks of life.
In her acceptance speech at the British Academy Television Awards, Coel thanked the series intimacy coordinator – a relatively new role within the industry – “for making the space safe, for creating physical, emotional and professional boundaries so that we can make work about exploitation, loss of respect, about abuse of power without being exploited or abused in the process.”
But the media has also been a space in which sexual assault has been trivialized. The artificial intelligence social media influencer ‘Lil Miquela,’ who was thought first to be created to promote clothing brands, once posted a fake vlog in which she described being sexually assaulted.
The bot said things such as, “Sure enough, I just feel this guy’s cold, meaty hand touch my leg as if he was confirming I’m real.”
Not only does such a statement suggest alleging sexual assault is a performative act, but perpetuates the normalization of sexual assault of women by using it as a marketing tool.
The media is an all-consuming presence in our society, and therefore the problems we have are reflected within it.
But the media also offers paths to a solution, in raising awareness and elevating the voices of those who need to be heard.
Daisy Wigg is a Senior Reporter with Youth Journalism International. She wrote this commentary.
Chuying Huo is a Senior Reporter and Senior Illustrator with Youth Journalism International. She made the illustration.
This article is part of the No one is safe project about sexual assault around the world. It is being published in five parts of six article each on Mondays and Thursday, beginning Nov. 29, 2021. For links to the published project, click below.