How Betty cleverly avoids an all-too-common sexual assault cliché

Brittny Pierre

From Digital Spy

Betty spoilers follow.

Betty is a smart, witty, teen show that captures the lives of young women in the skating community in a big city. Throughout the series, it lays out the roles men play within their lives, specifically in the skating culture. We learn early on how important creating safe spaces are for women in these male-dominated spaces and establishing a sisterhood.

The show follows five young women: Janay, Honeybear, Kirt, Indigo and Camille. Betty depicts their friendship and queer relationships through a romantic and innocent lens, instead of the male gaze, showing the realities of difficult subject matter – including sexual assault.

In the span of four of the six episodes, Betty captures the complexity and complications women deal with when they are aware of a loved one who has been accused of sexual assault.

Photo credit: HBO

In episode two we are introduced to Janay's YouTube channel, which she co-hosts with ex-boyfriend and close friend Donald. After they complete a taping, Janay notices the comments on their page have been disabled. To dismiss the issue, Donald simply expresses that he turned them off to protect her from angry comments. Janay later finds out through her friend Honeybear, who had taken a screenshot of the comments, that an old fling of Donald's named Yvette had been sharing her sexual assault story on the page.

Throughout the series, we witness Janay with an array of conflicted emotions: defensiveness, rage, concern, understanding, reflection and healing. It showcases that one simply cannot dismiss such claims right away even if they're about someone one trusts and thought would never commit such a heinous act.

However, it also shows how sometimes victims themselves are unable to recognise their own trauma, until someone brings up their own stories that help them understand what they went through, and give them the courage to speak up.


Janay wants to believe Donald's claims that he had no involvement with Yvette, and that it was simply a scorned crush. Janay approaches Yvette to hear her story. In a touching one-to-one, Yvette goes through her own wave of emotions – crushing Donald, trusting him, then feeling violated.

It is an experience many women, especially young women, have witnessed with someone they are close to. It's there where Janay not only consoles her but also believes every word Yvette is saying. She acknowledges that what Yvette went through was the same way Donald had acted towards her when the two were in a relationship.

In the many years that television and film has been depicting sexual assault, especially after the #MeToo movement, we've seen that assault has many layers. It sometimes happens within relationships, with close friends, and people you trust dearly.

Photo credit: HBO

WATCH BETTY ON NOW TV

But equally, rape is often shown in an aggressive or violent way on screen – and that's not necessarily a true reflection of how many experience it. And it's often with someone we know, not a random perpetrator. According to a Glasgow University study (via the BBC), "less than 10% of the people accessing the advocacy service were raped or sexually assaulted by strangers, yet that is still something that is a popular conception in the mind of the public."

Betty manages to avoid this misconception and instead tackles the complexity of sexual assault. Too often survivors are asked why they didn't speak up sooner, and it could often be because they were unable to notice or articulate what they were experiencing or didn't recognise the many complicated forms it can take.

Betty not only shows this, but it also encapsulates the trust women can have within one another and how healing can begin when people not only listen but also believe each other.

Betty aired on HBO and Sky in June, and is available to watch on NOW TV.

Rape Crisis England and Wales works towards the elimination of all forms of sexual violence and sexual misconduct. If you’ve been affected by the issues raised in this story, you can access more information on their website or by calling the National Rape Crisis Helpline on 0808 802 9999. Rape Crisis Scotland’s helpline number is 08088 01 03 02.

Readers in the US are encouraged to contact RAINN, or the National Sexual Assault Hotline on 800-656-4673.

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