Anatomy of a Scandal teaches more about consent than school ever did

Olivia’s story is an example of how consent isn’t just black and white

Anatomy of a Scandal is teaching people right now more about consent than sex education in any school classroom has ever. The main storyline is the court case of James Whitehouse, an MP who had an affair with his researcher and she is now accusing him of rape. She says they had consensual sex countless times during their affair, but on one occasion in a lift she withdraw her consent and he continued.

The show sheds light on how consent can be withdrawn at any point during a sexual encounter, but it really has me questioning – why has it taken a Netflix show for this to get attention?

Since the show was released there have been calls to have Olivia’s story and the courtroom scenes shown in schools. And it’s true, my personal sex education whilst I was a teenager never even mentioned consent, let alone the idea that it isn’t as simple as a “yes” or “no” at the time of initiating sex. Instead we had teachers awkwardly wheel in the television, play a video of a cartoon “mum and dad” who “love each other a lot” and have sex in their marital bed. No mention of LGBT sex, consent, or anything that wasn’t a pretty picture of loving sex between two people.

— Millie (@MillieSansoye) April 18, 2022

The show talks about the so-called “blurred lines” of consent – but why are they blurred? It should be obvious that someone can decide at any point that they no longer want to have sex with someone but no, this isn’t understood. And crucially, it isn’t understood that this is rape. There are women and men everywhere who feel as though once they have said yes once, that’s it. And if you change your mind that’s on you, and you won’t be believed if you say that’s wrong.

Olivia goes from a powerful testimony of how she may have followed James into the lift, but when he became rough and ripped her top she no longer wanted to have sex with him. Just minutes later she is being torn to shreds and called a liar because it’s “obvious” she “wanted it” because she followed him there and had had sex with him before. Her choice of words is deeply analysed and because she didn’t quite literally shove James off and yell “no” in his face, that’s obviously a yes, right? Saying “not here” and scrambling to get him off just wasn’t enough. This is wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, I am very aware how courts work. I’m not here trying to argue that we shouldn’t cross examine witnesses and that defence lawyers aren’t needed or do anything they shouldn’t. But, the principle is all the same. There stood a woman who faced not being believed for the simple reason of how she went about presenting her consent, changing her mind, and because she had slept with the man in question before.

Anatomy of a Scandal does a powerful job in displaying the current issues regarding consent. One of the most subtle yet powerful characters in this storyline is Sophie. She is no longer the dutiful wife sticking by her husband and you can tell from very early on she understands that no matter what her ties to James and their family are, she cannot sit back and pretend what he did isn’t wrong.

I have told friends to watch Anatomy of a Scandal, and spoken to loads of people I know about the issues surrounding consent it raises. Yes, it probably would be beneficial for the courtroom scenes to be used as an aid in sex education classes at schools, but the thing is, it shouldn’t have to be. The reaction to the show has proven more needs to be done to make everyone aware of what consent is, and it needs to be done now.

Anatomy of a Scandal is available on Netflix now. For all the latest Netflix news, drops, quizzes and memes like The Holy Church of Netflix on Facebook. 

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• Anatomy of a Scandal: This is what the Libertines Club at Oxford University is in real life

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