(reading time is about 8 minutes)
Katie, aged 18, writes about the C4 drama Consent (which first aired in February and is available on 4 On Demand) reflecting on how key moments relate to LMK’s 10 unhealthy relationship signs,
C4 describe Consent a ‘bold drama set in an elite school where the lines of sexual consent are perilously blurred’. Viewer discretion is advised and this blog contains details which you might find upsetting. You can find details of support here.
This blog contains spoilers.
‘Consent’ is a Channel 4 film about a young woman, Natalie, who goes to a private school that has only recently started to accept women. Natalie is raped by a boy at the school, Archie. Natalie is outcast and marginalised after she reports the rape, eventually having to leave the school. The film effectively demonstrates how rape culture can be bred within schools and the impacts of that on students.
Key moments and LMK’s unhealthy signs
Manipulation – when someone tries to control your decisions, actions, and emotions
When Archie goes to Natalie’s house to talk to her on the day after the party, she is visibly upset after finding out they had sex, as she had been unconscious and didn’t have capacity to consent. Archie is trying to make the situation seem like a misunderstanding and to reduce his own guilt, so he tries to tell Natalie what she is feeling and thinking. He tells her ‘Yes you did’ want to have sex. This is a clear example of manipulation as Archie is trying to control Natalie’s reaction, to twist the narrative in his mind to convince himself he is innocent. He is pre-emptively trying to control her actions, as he does not want her to tell people about the rape, and trying to control her decisions,. He is also reducing her emotions and making her feel like she is overreacting.
In some ways, Archie manipulates the audience. He is portrayed as a ‘nice guy’ who is different from the other sexist Dales boys. He is portrayed as a supportive boyfriend, a high achieving student, and someone who is respectful of Natalie. He is less sexist in the group chat than the other boys, although this is a low bar. The audience is almost made to like him, up until he rapes Natalie. Eventually though, it becomes clear who Archie is and what he is capable of.
Sabotage – when someone purposely ruins your reputation, achievement, or success
Archie’s sister, Alice, sabotages Natalie. Alice is aware that Archie is not telling the whole truth, and although she portrays herself as a feminist, she very quickly turns on Natalie. She spreads rumours about Natalie, implying that she is lying about Archie. This is extremely disloyal to Natalie, who was originally her best friend. It’s also dishonest. Alice left Natalie with Archie, when she was clearly in no state to be left alone, showing a lack of care for Natalie’s wellbeing. Natalie eventually confronts her about it. Alice again betrays Natalie, by sending Archie’s lawyers videos of her and Natalie getting ready for the party, showing them having fun and dancing provocatively. Archie’s family and his lawyers use these to create a narrative that Natalie was promiscuous, implying that she wanted to have sex with Archie, which is clearly sexist.
Guilting – when someone makes you feel responsible for their actions or makes you feel like it is your job to keep them happy
When Archie confronts Natalie at her house following the rape, he consistently guilts her. He asks her ‘Why are you being like this?’. He makes her feel guilty for her reaction, and is suggesting that she is being unreasonable about the situation. He also further guilts her by saying she was ‘embarrassed,’ to have sex with him, implying he is the one who should be upset. He totally disregards Natalie’s emotions towards the situation and is only thinking about his own fragile ego. After Archie feels embarrassed, he becomes extremely angry, and storms out of his house. This shows how self-centred Archie is, but also represents toxic masculinity as well.
Deflecting responsibility – when someone repeatedly makes excuses for their unhealthy behaviour
After Raffy uploads a girl’s explicit pictures to an adult website, without her consent, she confronts him about him, letting him know it was illegal as she was 17 in the photos. Up until she states that it was illegal, Raffy is making a joke of the whole thing. He is laughing and joking with his friends about it, showing that he does not take it seriously, and has extraordinarily little respect for her. After he finds out it was illegal, he tries to explain it away as ‘just banter.’ This is deflecting responsibility as he refuses to accept the seriousness of his actions. It is also very realistic, as behaviour within schools is often explained away as banter, or a joke. This leads to the notions that women cannot take a joke and reduces their real experiences to them being overreacting and emotional. Raffy makes no effort to empathise with the girl whose pictures he uploaded
Many characters deflect responsibility for their role in Natalie’s rape. Archie deflects responsibility as he tells Natalie that he was drunker than her. This is false, as Natalie was passed out and could not remember a single detail, whereas Archie was able to stay awake, and film the encounter. Alice also deflects responsibility for her role in leaving Natalie alone with Archie, instead implying that Natalie was responsible for her rape.
Belittling – when someone does and says things that make you feel bad about yourself
The boys at the party rate girls as they walk past. They rate one girl in a bikini as a 4.5/10, and another in a long sleeve top and jeans as a 2/10. This effectively demonstrated the way men consider attractiveness and beauty in women but also how they disregarded them as humans, reducing them to numbers. They do it loudly, so the girls can clearly hear them, and make derogatory comments about having sex with them, about how it would be difficult. The boys also belittle women’s achievements, specifically Natalie’s. At the beginning, Natalie wins captain of the debate team, a title never held by a girl at Dales. Instead of appreciating the occasion, they boys are texting on their group chat ‘slutsandstuff,’ objectifying Natalie. Kojo stands up as Natalie wins the award and grabs his chest to imitate boobs. This humiliates Natalie in front of the school, diminishing her and her achievements to a sex object.
Volatility – when someone has a strong, unpredictable reaction that makes you feel scared, confused, or intimidated
Archie’s reaction to Natalie not remembering them having sex is entirely over the top, and she even looks visibly scared by the end of it. He swears in her face saying ‘fuck this’ in terms of the situation and storms out her house. This clearly intimidates Natalie and is also entirely disproportionate, as Natalie is the one who has the right to be upset. This reaction could also make Natalie feel guilty and scare her into not reporting the rape. Archie’s reaction also shows his lack of control, as his perceived slight from Natalie caused him to fly into a rage. It also shows his entitlement, as he believes Natalie should be happy, they had sex, and not upset that she was raped. Thankfully, Natalie was had the courage to go to the headmaster.
Betrayal – when someone is disloyal or acts in an intentionally dishonest way
Archie betrays Natalie multiple times. It starts at the beginning, where he makes no attempt to defend her in the group chat entitled ‘slutsandstuff.’ He betrays her the most severely when he sends the video, he filmed of them having sex (without Natalie’s knowledge) to the group chat. This is a violation of Natalie, but is also illegal, especially because she is only 17. Archie seemingly does this to gain the approval of his group chat, showing the real effects of toxic masculinity well. He betrays Natalie again by lying to the school, his friends, his parents, and lawyers about the rape. Natalie is betrayed by most of the school, and only has one teacher and student who stick by her. Natalie is also betrayed by the school, as they failed in their duty of care. They placed the school’s reputation above Natalie’s wellbeing, seemingly trying to protect Archie more than they do Natalie.
Isolation – when someone keeps you away from friends, family, or other people
Archie isolated Natalie from the school community, due to his lies about the rape. He caused her to drop out of the sixth form, meaning she lost her progress with her A-levels. This is obviously clearly unfair, as Natalie has done absolutely nothing wrong, but it is realistic. Women are frequently demonised and outcast for telling the truth about their sexual assaults, and boys/men often get off with a slap on the wrist. This was portrayed well in consent, as the headmaster of Dales was clearly more preoccupied by discretion and the school’s reputation, than justice for Natalie.
Overall, I found Consent sadly realistic. It showed the role of some elite schools in nurturing egos, making boys believe they are better than others, and that they can get away with awful behaviour with no, or few, consequences. It showed how victims can come to be viewed as the perpetrator, and be punished for speaking up more than the real perpetrator. And it showed how those in charge can reinforce and perpetuate rape culture.
If you need support after reading this, here are some organisations that can help.