“How does a man know a woman is not consenting when he participates?” – Asking for it.
The most surprising aspect of Jess Hill’s new SBS documentary Asking for it it is the sheer courage of sexual assault and rape survivors recalling harrowing incidents on camera.
In the first episode Grace Tame, Saxon Mullins and Gemma Elsom detail what happened to them as teenagers to make us understand the concept of consent and the changes, both social and legal, necessary to protect the vulnerable.
In Australia, around 85 sexual assaults are reported on average every day, but estimates suggest that 90% of sexual assaults go unreported. Between issues of sex, consent and power, Jess Hill says: “We are in a new sexual revolution. This time it’s all about consent.
Former Australian of the Year Grace Tame explains why at 15 she couldn’t consent to a sexual relationship with a 58-year-old man. Tame details the grooming undertaken by her teacher of her, who was ultimately convicted of “maintaining a sexual relationship with someone under the age of 17.”
“I was terrified…. terrified…. consent seems like a fucking joke,” he reveals.
Saxon Mullins describes the night she lost her virginity in a King’s Cross alleyway to the son of a nightclub owner and why she resisted the urge to remain silent. Now a survivor and advocate, she speaks directly to the camera, breaking her resolve only when she recalls how she had to reveal what had happened to her.
“(Police) asked me to explain what happened. I was really embarrassed, so I said, “You know, and then she attacked me.” The police officer said: ‘I’m really sorry. But I need you to say that’” he said.
Gemma Elsom remembers a trusted friend who violated her when she was drunk and unable to tell anyone.
“All I have is what my body felt and I’ll never forget,” she says. “That will be there forever…those physical feelings.”
“I think about what I could have done differently?” adds her mother. “I don’t know how we protect our children from their closest friends.”
There is nowhere for the viewer to hide in these comparative testimonies. They’ve been there, the least we can do is listen to their words.
But technology is also increasing consent issues for teens. West Australian Noelle Martin has found images of herself on porn sites, many of which have been turned into fake and deep videos.
After discovering that the police had little recourse and frustration with elusive web masters, she took her case to Australia’s first online government watchdog in the world: the eSafety Commissioner.
However, for Martin, the loss of privacy and the impact on family, friends, work, are sadly “the price to pay for speaking up”.
This segment also includes glimpses of males who have been subjected to nude sharing by former partners.
Given the abundance of assaults by young people between the ages of 15 and 19, we also watch Lauren French from Body safety in Australia lead a class of teenagers on the foundations of consent.
With 50 sexual assaults per week in senior care, the series also visits an aged care facility that is part of an undergraduate study of sexual assaults among seniors. Old-fashioned and conservative views, demonstrated by archival footage, are a challenge in this area as older adults have to grapple with what is socially acceptable in 2023. The same goes for the issue of consent where dementia is involved.
Further episodes will focus on institutional responses to rape, consent education, misogynistic behavior, and how consent works in the real world of a dance party. I also learned about “Fawning,” a survival strategy for avoiding conflict with an offender and establishing a sense of security.
Hill, whose previous documentary Look what you made me do has dealt with domestic violence, offers a sympathetic yet challenging perspective. It’s impossible to ignore his passion for a hot topic, currently the topic in many Australian communities.
Make no mistake, it’s another powerful work, with incredible access to survivors whose voices should be heard. SBS will challenge you on where you stand.
Asking for It airs Thursdays at 8.30pm on SBS.