I am a Downton Abby fan; I have loved watching it since it first started airing on PBS. It has everything I need for entertainment: History, beautiful sets and costumes, interesting characters, and Tom Branson (Allen Leech) – the most gorgeous blonde haired, blue eyed, Irish bloke to grace the small screen since… ever, be still my heart. It also plays out like a soap opera with death, love, and lies and I am often emotionally invested in the characters – I was quite inconsolable for a week after Lady Sibyl died… why would you kill her Julian Fellowes?! WHY!?! Despite my deep fondness for Sybil and Tom, as well as my love of the caustically witty dowager countess played by Maggie Smith, season four of the show has proven that my kindred spirit at Downton is none other than Anna Bates.
What? Doesn’t everyone find their soulmate on PBS?
I have always liked Anna. What isn’t to like, she is kind, thoughtful, and has a slightly playful side. During the first two episodes of season four all goes well for Anna, then during episode three she is brutally attacked and raped by a visiting valet. As I watched, my heart broke: I was raped, I was acquainted with my rapist, and I had loved ones who were literally right next door as it happened. I am Anna Bates and she is the first character on a T.V. show that I can relate to regarding this event.
Earlier this week a facebook friend posted a link to a Buzzfeed article that states “Downton Abbey finally went too far” with a picture of Anna and Bates.
Naturally, I was inclined to see what the article was about. I was dismayed to see that it was an opinion piece that basically said the show focuses too much on the man’s view of things and that Anna’s point of view is glossed over and she is too focused on her husband’s reaction. It compares Anna’s rape, and the subsequent fall out, to the rape of a character on the T.V. show Scandal. The comparison looks at how the character on Scandal “uses her rape to get the upper hand” and how most t.v. shows that deal with rape look at the victim’s point of view and looking at how their loved ones react diminishes that.
HOLD THE PHONE. The reason that Anna’s rape and fall out from it tugged so deeply at my heart strings is because of how real I felt the portrayal was. EVERY rape is different and every individual copes with their rape differently. The way in which Anna copes with her rape, distancing herself from her husband and closing herself off, is very similar to how I coped.
I was raped in first year university, two floors up from my own res-room by the neighbour of a friend of mine from high school. I was plied with alcohol and threatened throughout the ordeal and then was sent on my way while I was incredibly intoxicated and in shock. It was my first time. I had not wanted to have sex, I barely knew the guy other than that he had a nasty temper and was a friend of a friend. For weeks after the rape I would be petrified every time I walked past a hoard of first year engineers, what if he was in that group. I am still plagued by occasional flashbacks during intimate moments, my very own form of PTSD (clinically diagnosed even).
During my second year of university I met a guy and started dating him, things were going well and I had told him from the start about what had happened to me – my rapist was the housemate of that same friend from university who lived next door to him in res and there was a good chance that we might run into him at house parties. I told my boyfriend, and have told all guys I’ve been serious with since the incident, because of the flashbacks I would occasionally have. I would breakdown during intimate moments and I find it’s better if my partner knows beforehand what to do if this happens.
About two months after this relationship started we went out for drinks and I ended up getting very agitated, all of my fears spilled out. “I’m DAMAGED. I am BROKEN and RUINED.”
I remember shouting those words repeatedly, while tears streamed down my face. I truly believed those thoughts, that I was damaged, that because of what happened I didn’t deserve to be happy, and that I was broken and dirty and no sane guy could ever love me because I allowed myself to be spoiled. I had a breakdown on a side street while I tried to run away from someone I cared about. He didn’t let me run, he stayed and spent a great deal of time helping me to realize that I was worthy of love and that the rapist was the one with issues not me. In a way though, I was right, psychologically I was broken at the time because I had a warped sense of myself. I allowed the actions if a pathetic disgusting piece of garbage to impact how I viewed myself and how I believed those I loved would view me.
That is why I believe that Anna’s rape was realistically portrayed. Like me, she feared for how her husband’s view of her might change much like how I believed my own rape affected my ability to be loved. She too believed that she was unclean and damaged, I found it painful to hear the same words I used come out of her mouth.
These worries about the reactions of others are not solely aimed at our significant others, I was terrified about the reaction my father and mother would have. My mother was told three months after the fact and she was devastated that she hadn’t been able to protect her child (my father still doesn’t know). We seek to protect those we love whether it is because we fear their views of us will change or because they will seek retribution on our behalf. In that way, they take on the plight of the victim and their behaviours, real or perceived, will affect how the victim moves forward. I do not believe that a desire to protect those we love from sharing our pain is weakness, I believe this is based on what a person values, their personality, and any other number of variables.
Anna did share her story with her husband, after a great deal of agony on both sides. She did not, however, share the rapist’s identity for fear of what her husband might do for retribution. Once again, I know this feeling, my significant other was so angry when I told him about what happened that he informed me that he would physically assault the guy if they ever met … while that would’ve given me some short term joy it would have resulted in more long term difficulties. Downton shows this reaction, it shows how a rape not only affects the individual but also all those who love the individual who has been raped.
There are infinite ways to cope with rape, when I read the buzzfeed article I felt like they were harping on individuals who, like myself, struggled with how they could relate to their loved ones after such an event. Struggling to adapt after a life-changing event is normal, being raped turns your life upside down and truly affects how you interact with those you love. The article is written in such a way that those individuals who do not use their rape to their advantage (WHAT?!) are lesser in some way. Well I am not lesser, I am open about what happened to me, I have learned from it, and I think it has even made me stronger. I am not a victim, I am a survivor and woe be the person who thinks otherwise.