If you watched last week’s episode of ABC’s hit show Private Practice then I’m sure that like me you were on the edge of your seat, mouth agape in shock during the final few moments of the episode. As Charlotte King, Chief of Staff at St. Ambrose’s Hospital and the doctor whose specialty is sexology, leaves her office she is attacked by an unknown man and thrown into her office with a slamming door.
From the looks of the chilling teaser for the November 4th episode, it was a violent attack and if you’ve read the inside scoop from Entertainment Weekly you’d know too that it was in fact a violent rape.
The Aftermath of the Attack
Last night’s episode focuses on the immediate aftermath of the attack. From the start King is adamant that she was robbed – not raped – even reporting so to the police. It isn’t until she is alone with Addison, played by Kate Walsh, that the reality of the rape becomes evident but King herself isn’t ready to admit it.
“I wasn’t raped. I was robbed. No rape kit…He took my wallet. He didn’t take anything else.”
Addison later tries to convince King to report the rape but King is unwavering. She does however give Addison (and viewers) a glimpse at the horror she experienced:
“It’s dirty and sweaty and he licks your face and he wipes himself off in your hair and when you try to scream he punches you so hard you see God. And then he goes at you again, raping stuff you didn’t even know you had because he enjoyed it so much the first time.”
This raw picture of the attack is chilling but one thing is clearer than anything else – King will not play the victim.
“I know you’re trying to help,” King says to Addison, “but if helping means that everyone, that Cooper [her finance], is going to be looking at me like you’re looking at me now, well, then please don’t help me.”
Not a Victim
One of the most striking aspects of the episode for me was King’s refusal to play the victim. She is adamant in keeping the rape a secret from anyone but Addison and unlike the “typical victims” we normally see on TV who breakdown and cry, King’s loudest emotion is her anger. In fact, it is her anger that gives her strength and helps her cope.
I know many will say that King’s refusal to admit the rape or be labeled a victim is her denial, and I wouldn’t argue with that, but I think that for King it is more about how this label – victim – would change how people see her, how she sees herself.
When attacked she fought, she screamed, yelled, punched and kicked much like many other women. She will not be the victim because she survived and makes it clear she won’t have anyone calling her one when Cooper uses the word (albeit concerning the robbery, the only thing he thinks happened) and she lashes out saying:
“You ever call me the victim again this marriage is off.”
A System Full of Flaws
One of the most frustrating aspects of the episode for me was the many flaws we see with the criminal system. The man who raped King is questioned by police and Sheldon, the practice’s psychiatrist after he is found confused on the street and covered in someone else’s blood, but because no one has filed any charges the longest they can keep him is 72 hours for assaulting Sheldon and kicking a cop.
The fact that he raped someone is clear, but without a charge he is relatively a free man. Regardless of the fact that King refused a rape kit and lied to police, this man is a rapist with or without a named “victim” – or shall we say survivor. Not only is he a rapist but in this case he is a mentally ill man with a temper and vendetta again women after recently finding his girlfriend cheating.
Unfortunately, women who are raped often keep the attack a secret like King and refuse a rape kit or press charges. For some it is denial, for others shame or fear or like King the need not be to labeled a victim, but for whatever reason charges are not made and rapists walk free.
Both Strickland who plays King and Shonda Rhimes, the executive producer of the show, understand the severity of undertaking such a story line.
“A lot of violence against women on television is from the point of view of law enforcement,” points out Rhimes, “as opposed to standing in the shoes of the actual victim and seeing how it is for them and the people around them.”
“Creatively, it’s a real gift for an actor,” said Strickland. “But I also knew that this would reach so many people who have either experienced it or have been close to people who have experienced it. The only thing I said was that we have to get it right.”
Part of getting it right means that King’s rape will not serve as a single episode or fleeting moment in her character’s storyline.
“We in no way are going to let this thing go away in four episodes” says Strickland, “Charlotte will live with this for as long as she’s a character on Private Practice,” much like any other woman who is violently raped.
It is my hope that the show stays true to this promise.
How do you think Private Practice handled the rape storyline?
Private Practice logo from website