Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

Why that Doctor Foster conversation is so incredibly, incredibly important

13891239-low_res-doctor-foster-series-2.jpg

Warning: this article contains spoilers for the second season of Doctor Foster, so avoid reading on unless you’re up to date with the BBC One show.

Doctor Foster is, as we all know, the gleefully mad melodrama that people are becoming positively addicted to. And last night’s episode (19 Sep) proved to be no exception, with countless viewers taking to social media to gasp about Gemma (Suranne Jones) and ex-husband Simon (Bertie Carvell) having passionate (albeit hate-fuelled) sex on the dining room table.

Indeed, looking at the headlines this morning, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was the only thing to happen in the episode – or, at least, the only thing worth talking about.

However, there was a far more important storyline at play: we’re talking, of course, about the shocking events that triggered Tom (Tom Taylor)’s sudden change in behaviour.


Read more: Will we ever be able to stamp out victim-blaming in cases of assault?


Gemma, keen to understand why her son had fallen out with his best friend, hacked into his photo stream and uncovered several photos of him kissing Isobel (Megan Roberts), an apparent pal from school.

The doctor confronted the teenage girl – but got far more than she bargained for when Isobel nervously confirmed that Tom had sexually assaulted her at a party.

“I kissed him and he said, ‘Let's go outside to get away from people’,” said Isobel. “Stuff happened and then he went off back home.”

Isobel opened up to Gemma in Doctor Foster

Isobel opened up to Gemma in Doctor Foster

Sensing that there was more to the story, Gemma pressed Isobel for more information.

“Well, we were kissing and it’s OK, it’s good, but I wanted to do more,” explained the teen. “Then, as we do, I’d had enough and I’d changed my mind.

“I just didn't want to, but when I tried to move – he wouldn't let me, he was grabbing, he got his hands on me really hard, he just wouldn't stop touching me, I was hitting him and pushing him away but he wouldn't stop.”


Read more: Twitter account counts up tally of every death from domestic violence


Isobel continued: “I screamed at him, he took a step back and just started crying, I ran and got away from there as fast as I could.

“I didn't tell Mum, as nothing really happened, but when Max found out, he asked Tom about it and Tom just hit him. We were trying earlier to sort it out but he just went mental.”

Gemma, despite being her son’s biggest champion and supporter, was rocked to the core by the tale – and was quick to remind Isobel of the importance of consent. Tom should have stopped when you asked him to, she reassured the schoolgirl, and it was wrong that he didn’t.

After apologising on behalf of her son, she then rushed home to confront him.

“I was so drunk,” he told his mum tearfully. “I don’t really remember what happened, all I remember is her crying.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I’m s**t – it’s s**t.”

Tom seemed remorseful after being confronted by his mother

Tom seemed remorseful after being confronted by his mother

It was a powerful and incredibly impactful scene – one which reminded audiences everywhere that there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ or ‘normal’ sexual assault.

More importantly still, the scene broke away from the kinds of assaults that TV and film producers tend to focus on, the types of victims that they gravitate toward and the distortions that can happen when the crime is used as a plot device.


Read more: Stanford rapist to be released after serving just half of his prison sentence


Instead of a graphic and violent portrayal of the assault (as we’ve seen so many times before in Downton Abbey, Scandal, Poldark, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Elle, and even EastEnders), there was a quiet conversation. The victim’s account of what happened was the force directing the story – and her version of events was believed.

She was not made to feel as if she was to blame in any way for her assailant’s actions: indeed, Gemma made sure to eradicate any self-doubt that Isobel was experiencing, and remind her that “no” – no matter when it is uttered – always means no.

And, most importantly of all, it will help change pop culture’s narrative about sexual assault.

Mother and son seemed ready to leave town for good

Mother and son seemed ready to leave town for good

In veering away from the tried-and-tested TV trope of a violent struggle and a stranger in the dark, Doctor Foster has avoided feeding into the unhelpful and toxic myths and stereotypes that are so prevalent when it comes to discussing sexual assault. That only young ‘attractive’ women and girls, who flirt and wear ‘revealing’ clothes, are targeted. That men are rarely targeted at all. That it ‘doesn’t count’ if you’re romantically involved with the person who assaults you. And that the victim is always left with visible injuries, which acts as ‘proof’ of her story, of her resistance.

It goes without saying that people of all ages and appearances, and of all classes, cultures, abilities, genders, sexualities, races and religions, can be the victim of rape. That only around 10% of rapes are committed by ‘strangers’. That rape is absolutely not the only example of sexual assault. That consent is ours to give, refuse or take back at any time, every time.


Read more: Gigi Hadid attacked by stranger and immediately blamed for it


It is equally true in both the law of the land and the law of basic human decency that a person has the right to withdraw their consent at any point during sexual activity. If you’re in a sexual encounter with someone and they ask you to stop and you don’t stop, you’re committing a sexual offence. It’s as simple as that. And if they lose their freedom or capacity during a sexual activity they’ve previously consented to – for example, if they pass out – the same applies: you need to stop.

Yet, as has been made all too clear by media’s skewed approach to consent, there are still many people out there who have failed to grasp the basic meaning of the word.

Reacting to the news that Tom had sexually assaulted his female friend, one newspaper decided to declare it as his “sordid secret” – a naughty misdemeanour, something to be giggled at behind one’s hand, rather than recognising it for the serious crime it is.

And it doesn’t just happen with regards to television shows, either: last year, Brock Turner, a student from US-based Stanford University was given a prison sentence of just six months with probation after sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster on campus.

She had been unconscious, so, no, she didn’t try to fight him off – yet her “passive” response to his manhandling her was allegedly mistaken for consent.

“I was too drunk to speak English, too drunk to consent way before I was on the ground,” she wrote in a powerful victim statement. “I should have never been touched in the first place.”

The headlines that followed the case described her rapist as an “All-American swimmer” and some newspaper articles listed his competition times.

His victim, as she recalled in her letter, was described as an “unconscious intoxicated woman, ten syllables, and nothing more than that”, while his legal team delved into her personal relationship with her boyfriend.


Read more: The tiny detail in Doctor Foster that hints at a major plot twist


It’s unsurprising, then, that only 344 out of every 1,000 cases of sexual assault gets reported to authorities – which means that roughly two thirds of incidents will never be investigated. 

There are a multitude of reasons for this, many of which have been detailed on Twitter using the viral #WhyWomenDontReport hashtag. Women fear that they will lose their jobs, that they will be heckled, that they will not be believed. That they will be made to feel “silly” or “overdramatic” for bringing the crime to the attention of police. That if they even react to the perpetrator they will aggravate the situation. That they were drinking, or wearing a short skirt, or out late at night, or should have said something.

That they were, in some way, to blame for what happened to them.

It is for this reason that we need more television shows to address the concept of rape, to open up the narrative around sexual assault, and to remind everyone who thinks otherwise that the only person who is to blame, in any instance of violence, is the attacker. That to suggest otherwise is not only morally reprehensible – it implies doing so is somehow OK, excusable. And that, if a show as focused on scandal and shock-factor as Doctor Foster can take the time to offer a balanced, respectful, and thought-provoking consent storyline, then it’s high-time that everyone else followed suit.

If you would like more information or support, visit Rape Crisis UK – or, alternatively, call 0808 802 9999 (usual opening times are noon–2.30pm and 7–9.30pm any day of the year and also between 3 - 5.30pm on weekdays).

Doctor Foster continues on BBC One next Tuesday at 8pm.

Related

rotherham sex abuse compensation denied sammy woodhouse.jpg

Rotherham abuse victim denied compensation because she gave “consent”

tulip siddiq (2).jpg

Report reveals "human rights abuses" against women MPs online

iStock-619670538.jpg

Three women share their inspiring stories of escaping domestic abuse

More

The Netflix shows you’re most likely to devour in 24 hours

You, my friend, are a ‘binge racer’

by Nicola Colyer
18 Oct 2017

There’s a psychological reason you’re in love with Starbucks’ red cups

It’s not just because Christmas is coming

by Gemma Crisp
18 Oct 2017

Have a wonderfully macabre Christmas with this anti-advent calendar

Bah humbug

by Megan Murray
18 Oct 2017

Nigella Lawson says this is the next big food trend

Will this steal avocado’s crown?

by Nicola Colyer
18 Oct 2017

Men are supporting the #MeToo campaign by tweeting #HowIWillChange

“Guys, it’s our turn.”

by Moya Crockett
18 Oct 2017

The new sanitary towel advert finally showing RED period blood

Because what runs down your leg in the shower ain’t blue

by Amy Swales
18 Oct 2017

“France banning wolf-whistling is a good start – but it’s not enough”

We can’t kid ourselves that this kind of gesture will change women’s lives.

by Moya Crockett
18 Oct 2017

The UK's first permanent avocado restaurant is coming to London

It’s everything we avo wanted

by Megan Murray
18 Oct 2017

We really need to talk about what happened on Bake Off

We’re going to need a moment to process this

by Amy Swales
18 Oct 2017

Get free tickets to see Call Me By Your Name

17 Oct 2017