Dowton Abbey Rape Storyline – a Response from ITV and my Takedown of It

Further to the post I wrote earlier this week about the Downton Abbey Rape Storyline, I contacted ITV and Ofcom and have received a response from ITV. I will not say apology because it is the worst excuse for an apology I have seen in a long time! I am absolutely furious! And in the middle of composing a scathing email in response. I thought I would share their response with you here, because I have had a number of hits looking for “Downton Abbey rape” so I know there are people out there who are concerned and likely upset by it. I know I am.

So, Trigger Warning for rape and rape apologism, although if you’re searching for this, I expect you already know what you’re getting into. There are no graphic descriptions but feelings may abound. Seriously, take care of yourself. This is me taking care of my self by ranting in a public forum but only you know what you need. Everything else is below the cut.

Let’s start by replicating in full IVT’s crap response.

Thank you for your email regarding Sunday night’s episode of Downton Abbey.

We are sorry that you were disappointed by one of the story lines as we take our responsibility to the audience very seriously and naturally do not intend to cause distress.

However, Downton is a drama that has always involved highly dramatic twists and turns and so the decision to include a storyline of this kind was not taken lightly.

Over the past three years, the complex, loving but at times torturous journey of the Anna and Bates characters has been central to the narrative of the show. This storyline forms part of that difficult path and was depicted with great sensitivity.

The rape itself was not depicted on screen whatsoever and the nature of the episode was flagged by a pre-transmission announcement which drew attention to ‘violent scenes which some viewers may find upsetting’.

Set during a time when women were less empowered and able to speak out about rape, the coming episodes will set the assault and its ramifications in context and will show how Anna and other characters struggle to come to terms with what has happened.

We appreciate you taking the trouble to write and hope this explanation will help you appreciate our viewpoint.

If you have any additional comments, please do not hesitate to contact us again.

 So, that’s their response. Let’s pull it apart, step by step, shall we? Just at face value at first and then (in a separate post) we can look at what my criticisms were in my original email and how they answered them. (Here’s a clue – they didn’t!)

The bullshit starts in the first proper paragraph, with the word “disappointed“. I was not disappointed with their episode, so much as actively upset and disturbed. As I said in my first post – I ended up with nightmares and felt deeply unsafe in my own skin for the next day or so.

The second problem with that paragraph is where they said “naturally, we do not intend to cause distress“. I’m sure they didn’t but they did, and they haven’t actually apologised for hurting me or people like me. As has been said elsewhere on the internet: Intentions aren’t magic. Just because you didn’t mean to hurt someone, doesn’t mean you didn’t, and you should own up to that.

My next problem with them is where they claim the decision to run such a storyline was not taken lightly. Yeah, I’ll bet! What I’ve read in various interviews published by the news outlets was that:

“The intention was to shock.

“It was a shocking and bold storyline,” he [Nigel Harman] said, adding that when he read the script he was “amazed and excited by it, if that makes sense, because for a show like Downton it really leaped out as a bold and risky idea”.

Nigel Harman (actor who played the attacker), quoted on the BBC website.

(Note: don’t go reading the mainstream commentary, especially on the Metro, as it’s one big poisonous soup of victim blaming, screeching about how the viewers are overreacting and should just get over it already).

I doubt there was much discussion of the impact this storyline would have on the viewers. Setting out to shock as they were, they can only have been thinking about their viewers inasmuch as it would improve their ratings and media exposure, which while standard practice, is not okay.

Their next claim that pissed me off what that the rape was “depicted with great sensitivity”. Yes, okay they didn’t show the “actual“* incident where he physically forced his dick inside her and whatever else he might have done, but they showed the lead up and the aftermath and that was enough to cause harm. The writers orchestrated it so that we knew exactly what was happening, and Anna in her aftermath was distraught, and a mess. They implied, and the implication was enough.

*I use the word “actual” advisedly. What they mean when they say “the rape itself was not depicted on screen whatsoever”, is that there was no nudity and we didn’t see his body on top of hers. Apparently the lead up where she’s being physically beaten and hearing her screams in the distance don’t count as part of the rape. I disagree entirely. For Anna, it started the moment she realised he wasn’t going to let her get away. The moment she realised she was trapped in the kitchen with him. You know, the moments we agonise over, wondering what we could have done differently to prevent it, when in reality, by the time we’ve noticed what’s happening, it’s become too late to stop it.

ITV then go on to talk about their pre-airing warning (which I missed because PirateBay) but even had I seen the warning, it would not have been enough. They talked only of violence, and failed to specify that it was sexual violence. They could have said “depicts sexual assault” but they didn’t. It’s not the same thing, and anyone who thinks it is has their head in the clouds. In my eyes, initially, the whole episode was out of character for the programme but thinking back, it occurs to me that the previous episode at the fair was based on a sexual harassment storyline. Before that, nothing, except the events involving Mr Pamuk and Lady Mary, which I’m not sure weren’t sexual coercion, (but that’s for another discussion elsewhere). If this is the way the show is heading, I’m going to have to stop watching it, which makes me very sad.

Moving on to their final paragraph, things get really… interesting.They make a claim that they are dealing with rape in the context of an earlier time when things were different (read, worse) and therefore that we should be able to take the events of the episode less…personally? To heart? With a pinch of salt? Some distance?

What planet are they living on that they think things have changed enough that we’ll be able to deal with the issues raised “rationally”?!

Do they really think things have changed so much? Have they read none of the research regarding what happens in rape trials, should a woman today even get that far? Have they read about the abuses happening NOW within the current system, that make things a hundred times worse for the individuals concerned? Have they considered the statistics about how many women still don’t report, and are still unable to tell their loved ones? And what the likely (statistically prevalent) consequences are for those that do tell their loved ones? Did they pay no attention to the Steubenville Case?!! Or the rape apologism that followed it?!!!!!!!


Historical/period dramas may be period dramas but they are told within the context of our current society and it’s attitudes. The conversations happening now in our media show that all is not well. Yes, we have rape crisis centres these days (thanks to the hard work of the second-wave feminists in the 70’s) and we have some idea of what best practice looks like in terms of the judicial system actually helping those who come forward, but things are nowhere near perfect. Abuses within the system are all too common. Police officers treat the women with contempt and persuade them not to formally report, or worse, recant their statement meaning it gets logged as a false accusation of rape. The medical exam is traumatic, even if a trained support worker is available, and even if a rape kit is completed, doesn’t mean it won’t end up in a dusty warehouse, unprocessed. In the UK, the very existence of rape crisis centres is under threat due to funding cuts. Women-only shelters in the UK for victims of domestic violence/intimate partner violence are being closed due to central budget cuts, leaving women at even greater risk. The list goes on.

Who, then, are ITV to say that they can deal with the issue sensitively just because it is set “during a time when women were less empowered”?

Finally, in their closing statements they say they hope their standard letter template “will help [me] appreciate [their] viewpoint”.

To which I say, oh, I appreciate it all right – for the complete fob off it is!

 And if I have any further comments, they do not want me to hesitate to contact them again. Oh I will, ITV, I will! And I will write a blog post to let you know precisely what I think of you.