Note: Major 'spoiler' warning.
The most common perpetrators of rape in the UK are partners, so it's about bloody time British film started showing the realities of rape rather than the stranger-in-dark-alley-with-knife stereotype. Indeed it was the reinforcement of this stereotype for me which led me to believe that it was simply impossible for anyone other than a stranger to rape me. So when it happened, I wasn't sure what it even was, never mind how to react. That's why it's really important for acquaintance rapes, which make up 92% of all rapes, to be depicted in the media so both survivors and members of the ever judgemental public can understand that this is real, it's just as serious as stranger-in-the-alley-way and in fact it's much more common than stranger-in-the-alley-way rape.
That's why I 'liked' the depiction of rape in the British film Trishna (2012) which illustrates the abuse and rape of a young Indian woman Trishna (Freida Pinto) at the hands of her British-Indian boyfriend Jay (Riz Ahmed).
I 'liked' it because the relationship started off well - they seemed to love each other and make each other very happy. He seemed to be a good guy, early on in the film he even rescues her from a possible attack from strangers-in-the-alley-way. So good for her, she was saved from those strangers who she was rightly wary of but she didn't realise she should be wary of the person closest to her, her loving boyfriend Jay. This shit is real, guys who seem nice on the outside and start off being so loving do end up being abusive. Eddie in another British film Tyrannosaur (2011) is outwardly presented as the perfect husband. The photograph of Eddie and wife Olivia smiling happily hangs in their living room where Eddie gruesomely abuses his wife on a regular basis. Outwardly nice guys do rape their girlfriends and the last person their girlfriends expect this abuse to come from is from someone so close to them.
Audiences aren't quite recognising partner rape as 'real rape' though (you know because there's no bushes, alleyways or knives). The New Statesman says that "Does Jay rape Trishna... or does he merely take advantage of her gratitude and vulnerability? We can't be certain." The Telegraph says it "might even be considered rape". Film 4 seems to be confused too: "viewers are left to guess whether a consensual kiss led to sexual abuse".
Erm... guys? Trishna was shown to be treated like a slave and a whore by her boyfriend. She is forced by her boyfriend and keeps her mouth closed when he kisses her, rejecting any participation. She is reluctant to dance provocatively for him but he repeatedly and aggressively demands it of her. She repeatedly sobs and grimaces during sex, even making noises of pain and trying to pull her body away from him while they're having 'sex'. She 'lets him' rape her because she's scared of him. She stays with him because she's scared of him, does that mean it's not rape then? seriously?. I've often heard the public question rape victims "If it was that bad then why didn't she leave?". There are always many reasons why, fear, intimidation, lack of alternatives. These people are being abused, they're in no fit state to tell the abuser, "you know what, I'm not going to let you abuse me any more". Do they really expect the abuser's just going to say "Oh, alright then"?.
This is a problem with the UK law too. While rape is defined as sex without consent (Trishna definitely meets this definition) there was no physical force as such. Currently the UK law only recognises physical violence as force, which is common in stranger rape cases however ignores the fact that in acquaintance and particularly partner rape cases other types of force are extremely commonly and used as part of a complex series of ongoing domestic abuses. Rape doesn't have to occur at knife-point, it is common for other types of threats and abuse to be used to control and force, such as psychological and emotional coercion (outlined by Eastel and McOrmond-Plummer, 2006) Within acquaintance and partner rape, sexual intercourse can be forced on the victim in many complex, non-physical ways. This is generally not understood and sometimes not considered rape even though it is force and abuse all the same. This is because most people tend to think of rape through stranger scenarios where the victim is often physically forced with a weapon.
For Trishna, the possibility of telling someone about the abuse was non existent. She knew that she was being controlled by this man and that nobody could help her. The only way to stop the abuse was to stab her boyfriend to death then return to her family home where again she couldn't even tell her own mother or father. This again is strongly realistic because victims are often so ashamed and confused by their abuser that they suffer in silence. What I loved about this film is the unsaid understanding that Trishna was aggressively raped and abused, even though she never vocally describes how she feels or what happened to her. I certainly felt the audience understood her rape all the same. I heard a couple at the cinema declare that "he deserved it", but at the same time I knew that if these same people had heard a similar real-life story, they'd probably be doubting the victim by raising the usual questions like: was it 'real' rape? is she lying about it? But he looks like a nice guy? Maybe they accept that rape happens in other countries and cultures but are unaware of our own rape culture, that 1 in 20 women in their own country are raped. That's why films like this are really important; it's not possible to describe this sort of rape to a member of the public and expect them to understand. They either have to have been there, or you have to show them.
With nobody at all aware of the abuse she went through, for Trishna the only way out is to kill herself. She knows nobody will understand and she will only continue to suffer if she tells the authorities. Olivia in Tyrannosaur also stabs her rapist because apparently in film this is the thing to do but in reality 98% of rapists would just get away with it. Olivia however reports her crime and is jailed. Two very sad endings for these two women, who just so happened to be paired up with a rapist arsehole for a boyfriend. That doesn't make them weak characters, that makes them very strong and their stories very powerful.
[All statistics from the UK Home Office Report. Alan, J and Myhill, A.]