Broadchurch Series 3: A Lesson in Rape Culture

One of my colleagues was recently discussing Series 3 of Broadchurch, and they mentioned that they disliked the way that each suspect turned out to be a red herring. It’s true that, since it’s creation, Broadchurch has been masterful at leading us down the garden path only to find the end has been walled up and paved over. Series 3, which focuses on the rape of a local woman rather than a murder investigation like previous series, is a bit different however. These ‘red herrings’ are not simply misleading subplots, but are part of a much bigger comment on the sexism and rape culture which prevails within our society.

To recap – DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant) and DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Coleman) head up pretty much most of the police force in the small fictional beachside town of Broadchurch. In series 1, the two investigate the murder of Danny Latimer, a young boy known to many people in the town. A roller-coaster of accusations, motivations and suspicions, series 1 leads us to all manner of dark places. In a devastating turn of events, it is revealed that Ellie Miller’s husband Joe (Matthew Gravelle) was embarking on an wildly inappropriate relationship with Danny, which resulted in Danny’s murder. Series 2 focused primarily on the trial of Joe Miller, interspersed with some backstory on Hardy’s life. Series 3 took a new approach and opened with a new case for Miller and Hardy to solve.

Miller and Hardy meet Trish, late at night, on the steps of the police station. She’s visibly shaken. She explains to them that she has been raped.

Trish is taken into the station, and the three of them go over the events of the night. It becomes clear that the attack happened two days previously, and not the same night as was assumed. Hardy becomes agitated, frustrated that they have now lost two days in their investigation. Trish is clearly still in shock, but she asks Hardy and Miller, ‘Do you believe me?’.

Trish starts out as the ‘perfect’ victim. We assume she has come straight from the attack, that it happened only hours ago. There is no mention of alcohol, or sexual history to begin with. Trish is in shock and we (like Hardy and Miller) feel for her. Over the course of the series, Trish’s ‘perfect’ victim facade falls away. She had been at a party, she had been drinking…she’d had sex the morning of the attack, with her best friend’s husband.

Now, I don’t have to link you to the innumerable articles (mostly because that would mean linking to the Daily Mail/The Sun) which paint rape victims as responsible for their own attacks. I don’t need to tell you how unlikely it is that a rapist will be prosecuted if the victim was wearing a short skirt, drinking or has any sort of sexual history. It is actually very unlikely, regardless of the above, that the defendant will be convicted anyway.  The justice system wants victims to be ‘perfect’ to even have chance at conviction. There have been countless discussions by lawmakers and politicians discussing what counts as a ‘real’ rape, and what is just ‘bad manners’. 

It could have been easy to fixate on Trish as the imperfect victim and fall prey to the ‘what was she wearing’ rhetoric,but Broadchurch is far cleverer than that. Hardy and Miller never falter in their belief of Trish, and neither do we. The crime is a fact and is not up for debate. What is up for debate is who did it.

There were roughly 56 men at the party, all of whom are now suspects as far as Hardy and Miller are considered. These include Trish’s boss, ex-husband, lover, friends and various associates. Hardy demands all of these men are investigated and DNA evidence taken from them – with all of their whereabouts and motivations listed. It turns out that the men of Broadchurch are all hiding something.

Ed, Trish’s boss, has been stalking her (under the guise of wanting to protect her) and reveals he has been obsessively in love with her for many years. Whilst he see’s his behaviour as caring, we can see the threatening nature of his obsession and his history of domestic violence doesn’t help. The local taxi driver/serial cheater Clive Lucas, who went on a date with Trish, has her photo on a keyring in his garage. Jim, Trish’s one time lover, comes across as aggressive and threatening – claiming that if he had wanted to have sex with Trish, he could have. He wouldn’t need to rape her. Ian, Trish’s estranged husband, previously installed spyware onto her laptop in order to watch her if and when he desired. The spyware in question, was put there by Leo Humphries, a student of Ians. Leo is also revealed to be the perpetrator behind the attack but not quite in the way we expect.

Additionally, Leo had also been supplying pornography to two young boys in the town – Michael and Tom (Ellie Miller’s son). Miller is furious on discovering the graphic pornography on Tom’s phone, and this is prevalent sub-plot throughout the series. The young boys seem to be obsessed by it. Hardy’s daughter Daisy is also targeted by the boys, who steal her phone and share private photos of her around the school.

Perhaps each incident alone would go unnoticed. Perhaps we could (and we do) pass them off as ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘it’s just a bit of fun’. They may be tiny micro-aggressions individually, but once added up (and on a daily basis) they start to paint a very disturbing picture of the kind of culture we are living in. Specifically, a culture of disrespect and abuse of women. A culture where rape is just something that happens. Broadchurch has done a phenomenal job of outlining where these attitudes begin, and how quickly they become ingrained. The sexism which is so prevalent within our society often feels like the norm, because it happens every day.

It begins with degrading pornography (porn itself is a complex issue for another post), leaked private photos, or watching a parent behaving in a sexist or abusive manner.  It teaches young people that women’s bodies are there to be commodified, to be objectified. To be taken if you want them.

Broadchurch also makes a point of exploring how men expect other men to stick with them on issues of sexism. Whilst interviewing potential suspects, namely Jim, Hardy seems revolted by the things he says. Jim expresses that Hardy would have done the same thing in his situation (in reference to having sex with a young waitress at his wife’s birthday party). Hardy, in his role as a DI but also as another man, rebukes this statement. Unlike the other men in the series, who all cover for each other’s secrets and indiscretions in some way, Hardy makes it clear he doesn’t condone these actions. It is telling, however, that he seems to understand the horror of Jim’s words through having a daughter. It is not through personal empathy, Hardy perceives these words through the eyes of his daughter, a young girl who he is has some sort of ownership of. It is not at dissimilar to the ‘what if it was your daughter’ adverts which sprung up a few years ago. 

It serves as a reminder that, even though Hardy is a ‘decent man’ in comparison to the potential attackers, he is not above the endemic sexism within society and that even he can’t break away fully from the idea of ownership over the women in his life.

The ending of the series has caused controversy, which is pretty justified. In the final episode we learn the identity of the rapist, and it’s more complex than we ever imagined. Leo had essentially groomed Michael, a young school-aged boy. Looking to Leo as a mentor, Michael had his first taste of alcohol, his first sexually experience and his first ideas of ‘freedom’ through Leo. The attack on Trish was instigated by Leo, claiming that it was a sort of gift for Michael.

There is a certain expectation that we should sympathise with Michael. He has been subjected to the most toxic of masculine expectations and stereotypes, and his perspectives on women are formed by the things which Leo has said and done. Leo treats women as objects, mostly for fucking. At one point, he offers his girlfriend to Michael, telling him ‘she does what I tell her to’. He’s a terrifying character. Michael, on the other hand, seems to be given some slack. He was coerced into raping Trish and he understood (on some level) what Leo was doing was wrong. Is this a reminder that men who grow up within a patriarchal society are also deeply harmed by the values that men like Leo hold? That is to say, the idea of ‘being a man’ or ‘grow some balls’, or any of the other delightful sayings completely negate men as emotional beings too.

On the other hand, it seems like a certain cop out. Broadchurch doesn’t ‘blame’ Michael, but appears to blame the culture he has bought up into. Whilst this is certainly a huge factor, the rape has a perpetrator and that perpetrator is Michael. However coerced (or forced even) he felt, he could have walked away. Perhaps it is a sign that toxic masculinity is so ingrained within our society that Michael felt he had no choice but to rape Trish – lest he feel the wrath of Leo himself.

Perhaps the biggest failure in the ending is Hardy’s comment to Miller that Leo is ‘not what men are, he is an aberration’. Calling Leo abnormal ensures that we don’t investigate the toxic culture which has created him. He is not an aberration, he is the product of sexism and rape culture – and Hardy denying it feels like Broadchurch came so close to a real breakthrough, yet missed the point by miles.

Finally, I think it’s also important to mention how Broadchurch depicted Trish and the attack. Unlike most TV shows depicting rape (yes Game of Thrones I am looking at you), we never see the attack. Trish is a three dimensional character, whose story we follow from beginning to end. We see how hard it is for her to come to terms with what happened to her. We see Beth (Jodie Whittaker) working with her and other victims to try and get justice for them. There is a terrible onus on the victims (including Trish) to put themselves in the firing line in court, to prevent their rapist from attacking again. We see Trish work through the feelings of guilt, of responsibility. She is never just a body. Although it sounds like a very small thing, it’s something that we don’t see often.

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