Guest post: Rape in The Bill

In this guest post, Amy Clare considers how The Bill tackled a rape storyline

I have to admit it: I’m a fan of The Bill. It’s the only soap I regularly watch, and usually I find it an entertaining hour of moderately thought-provoking, good natured fluff. Last night’s episode, however, was different. I was appalled as a rape storyline unfolded which ended with the rapist being let off without charge and the victim blamed for her attack.

The plot centred on an underage schoolgirl called Lucy, who was raped at a party by a 16-year-old boy. She had also been psychologically bullied for being a virgin by another girl, Misty, who had apparently suggested to the boy that he try to have sex with Lucy, “for a laugh”. After the bullying was uncovered, the boy was let off without charge. But why?

The answer came in a later scene, from a police officer named Milly. “Did you say no?” she asked Lucy. “Did you tell him to stop, or try and fight him off?” (Note: the boy in question was about twice the size of his victim.) As Lucy shook her head, Milly adopted a condescending tone and said: “Well, if you didn’t say no or try to stop him, then…” and the look on her face finished the sentence for her: you probably weren’t raped. This despite the fact that Lucy had already told officers that she was so frightened by the attack that she “froze”. The effect on Lucy was clear – she got upset, and blamed herself: “I should’ve said something!” Then Milly says to Lucy, “You’re not to blame for what happened,” having literally just blamed her.

I found all this pretty appalling. Firstly, the issue of statutory rape (he was overage, she underage) wasn’t even mentioned. Secondly, consent to sex was not given (repeated assertions of “she went upstairs with me” were made by the boy but nope, this doesn’t constitute consent, sorry!) and the boy didn’t seek it. He therefore raped her, and the bully was complicit in it to some degree. Despite this, the only person feeling remorse for the attack was the victim.

Millions of people watch The Bill, some of whom are undoubtedly teenage girls, some of whom may be victims of sexual assault themselves. What are they learning from a storyline like this? That if you don’t say ‘no’ (clearly and loudly of course), and if you don’t try to ‘fight off’ your attacker, then there’s no point reporting an assault because nothing is going to happen? That if you’re being bullied, you can’t also be raped?

As we know, many victims of sexual assault and rape keep silent because it is an extremely frightening situation where there is a very real threat of physical harm. It is sometimes just not possible or practical to say no, or fight. This irresponsible storyline could prevent some such victims from reporting attacks.

I’ve complained to ITV by emailing them on [email protected]. I’m considering writing to Ofcom too. Did anyone else see this episode?