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Anti-rape campaigners have their say on new Broadchurch storyline

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Broadchurch returned to ITV on Monday night for the third – and final – time. Loyal viewers of the crime drama tuned in to watch a traumatised middle-aged woman calls the town’s police station in the middle of the night; as a single tear rolls down her cheek, she tells officers that her name is Trish Winterman – and that she has been raped.

What follows is a startlingly realistic portrayal of police procedure in the aftermath of a serious sexual assault; Trish (Julie Hesmondhalgh) is taken to a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC), where she embarks on an undignified, clinical journey. Her clothing is removed and dropped into evidence bags, swabs are taken by doctors, her wounds are examined, and she is offered the morning-after pill by medical professionals.


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Despite this, however, she has DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) at her side; the officer is calm, she’s comforting, and – above all else – she treats Trish with the utmost understanding and sensitivity. It’s a strong message to victims of assault watching the show; you can come forward, you can speak to the police, you will be taken seriously, and you will be made to feel safe.

It is for this reason that the show has been praised by police and rape counsellors alike.

David Tennant and Olivia Colman as DCI Hardy and DS Miller

David Tennant and Olivia Colman as DCI Hardy and DS Miller

The cast and crew of Broadchurch worked closely with victim services before filming episodes for the third series, to ensure that the storyline was treated sensitively and realistically.

Joan Carmichael, Detective Chief Inspector at Dorset Police, told ITV News: “Broadchurch is dramatising a very sensitive subject but it serves as a reminder that the police will do everything they can to bring offenders to justice and there is help and support available to anyone who has been a victim of such crimes.”

And Helen Stevens, the service manager at Dorset Rape Crisis, added that it had been a real “privilege” to work with writer Chris Chibnall and the Broadchurch production team.

“We hope that the series will enable victims of sexual violence to come forward to receive the help and specialist support that is available to them.”


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Michelle Challis, manager at The Shores support centre in Bournemouth, also worked with the production team on the storyline.

She said: “It was really important to us that Broadchurch's portrayal of the service provided by the SARC (sexual assault referral centre) was realistic.

“Seeking support following an assault is never easy so we wanted it to be demonstrated that there is dedicated support available and you will be taken seriously and looked after.”

They are not the only ones to praise the ITV show for its new storyline; writing in a blog published on the Huffington Post UK, Rebecca Hitchen, the director of operations for Rape Crisis’ South London branch, explained that “it is vital for television and film to therefore take some responsibility for education of our society.”

“For survivors to see their own experiences reflected back to them can be a powerful thing, it can help them recognise that they are not alone in what they have lived through and continue to cope with,” she explains. “These TV shows can help survivors to find ways to speak about their experiences and access support, and can help society realise just how important it is to believe survivors, and to support them and be alongside them.

“I also hope it will help foster a shift in attitudes where we place the blame and shame on perpetrators, where it belongs.”


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In the aftermath of her attack, Trish – like so many rape victims – is in shock and finds it difficult to remember the details of what happened to her.

DCI Hardy (David Tennant), however, is convinced that her assailant is someone she knows.

“When was the last stranger rape around here?” he asks Miller, in a clear reference to the fact that only 10% of sexual assault cases are “stranger rape”.

Throughout the episode, viewers are introduced to a number of suspects – but it remains to be seen as to how the case will unfold. And, as Trish doesn’t call the police until Monday night (she was raped on Saturday evening), there is some time to be accounted for – and at least one of the police team has expressed doubts about her story.

“TV has this unfortunate tendency to portray a rape victim as a young girl running through a wood – there’s often a slight titillating edge to it which is really distasteful,” she told Soaplife magazine.

“Sexual violence is not an act of sex, it’s an act of violence. The programme makers were very keen to show that it can happen to absolutely anyone. I think that’s why they cast me – to show that an ordinary, middle-aged woman is as likely to be the victim of rape as anyone else.”

Will DCI Hardy and DS Miller be able to solve the case?

Will DCI Hardy and DS Miller be able to solve the case?

Hesmondhalgh went on to add that she’s glad to see Broadchurch writers have moved away from the traditional murder mystery.

“I think it’s really interesting that this is a sexual assault whodunit rather than a murder. With all the murder dramas, as an audience we don’t feel it like we do a violent sexual assault. The dead person gets forgotten about, but in this Broadchurch Tricia is a constant reminder of what happened as we see her struggling to move forward.”

More information about the support available to people affected by issues discussed in Broadchurch is available on the Rape Crisis website.

The next episode of Broadchurch will air on Monday 6 March at 9pm – and, if you missed the first episode, it is available on ITV Player now.

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