The way that the past is remembered and presented for our consideration is influenced by the present in which that remembering and representation is done. The relationship between the past and present is not straightforward or simple, and can be interrogated, but there is undoubtedly a relationship and an influence.
Underbelly Razor has been interesting in a number of ways, particularly in its depiction of women. All the Underbelly series have had a slightly tortured relationship with their female protagonists, with a tendency to the exploitative – more breasts than one would have thought strictly necessary. Razor however focuses on two female leads who have real power within the criminal environment.The most interesting depiction of women has generally been, however, of those participating in law enforcement – the police. The powerlessness and challenges faced by women in these situations has been an ongoing theme of the Underbelly series.
Nonetheless, I think that Episode 5, The Darlinghurst Outrage was a particularly unusual and special piece of television, centred as it was on a complex rape case. It raised a number of scenarios – woman crying rape because she was paid to do so; woman crying rape because her husband found out she was a prostitute, straightforward rape of a woman dragged off the street. The “truth” of the episode was more complex – a wife and mother, forced by poverty and her husband’s unemployment, engages is some casual prostitution. After consensual, paying sex, one of the men involved wants to go further – she does not consent to this, and is anally raped while being held down by the two other men.
Attitudes within the police are made clear – senior officers only want to pursue the case when she is a respectable wife-and-mother; we hear that they have been unwilling to bring forward a number of cases of the rape of prostitutes. A male policeman argues that the case is unwinnable – it is the word of one woman against that of three men. So when the female officer, trying to make some headway in the prosecution of rape, finds out that prostitution has been involved, she ignores this fact and allows it to remain concealed. Ultimately, the prosecution loses. It is then that we see what Kate Leigh says she’d pay a lot of money to know, the truth according to the show. Ida Maddocks is held down and raped, screaming no.
What makes this depiction most compelling is the current media, judicial and social discourse around rape. One could almost imagine the same conversations being held by the police now. Rape against prostitutes is still, sadly, seen as a less awful crime. If there has been some form of consent given to some form of sex, public discourse often extends that consent to all forms of sex and any number of partners. The events in which football players, in particular, seem to find themselves embroiled often entail similar levels of complexity, and as often as not, this complexity is part of the tactics used to escape conviction. As is the woman’s sexual history.
Against this background of the current discourse around rape, what I think makes this an excellent contribution is that the message is clear, Ida Maddocks said no. Ida Maddocks was raped. And one of the men knew this – he was identified by the markings on the back of his neck because, while he held her down for business purposes, he knew what was happening was wrong.
Thanks Underbelly for acknowledging that, whatever our sexual history of previous consent, no means no.