Assault on the Small Screen: Representations of Rape in TV Drama

August 19, 2014

It’s common knowledge that the majority of American homes contain multiple televisions. Millions of people tune in to watch their favorite shows, among which, for quite a few of us, are police and legal dramas. These shows offer audiences the opportunity to participate in the search for justice for the victims of crimes, giving viewers a chance to solve a mystery or navigate the complexities of a trial alongside their favorite characters. The way shows such as NCIS, Criminal Minds, Law and Order: SVU, and The Good Wife work typically allow viewers to be even a few steps ahead of those characters, just a little bit closer to solving the crime or figuring out who-done-it.

My research focuses on the ways that shows such as the ones listed above and a handful of others represent the specific crime of rape and the victims affected by that crime. By looking at these shows with a focused, critical eye, it is my goal to draw conclusions about what messages these representations send about rape and about the treatment of rape victims. In a cultural climate that frequently accepts rape as a consequence of certain behaviors on the part of the victims, these representations are particularly important in terms of how they either support or subvert rape culture and prevalent rape myths. This is partially because these representations reach such vast audiences and partially because of the ways viewers feel about what constitutes justice in these narratives.

This research is an overview of my book Assault on the Small Screen: Representations of Rape on Prime Time Television forthcoming from Scarecrow Press.

MORE DISCUSSION: Join us on Wednesday, Sept. 10, 3:30pm-4:30pm at SCHOLAR SIP in UW-WC Library Lounge. Everyone is welcome, free admission

By Molly Magestro
Senior Lecturer, English Department