Private Practice: All in the Family: Rape, Apologism, and Spousal Abuse

I am slowly catching up on all the television I missed while AT&T left me without phone service for over a week (long story), so this writeup is actually about an episode of Private Practice that aired, uh, two weeks ago, but it filled me with rage, so, there you go. Spoilers ahead! Additionally, please be advised that this post talks about rape as well as abuse of people in institutions.

The A storyline in ‘All in the Family’ involves a woman believed to be in a persistent vegetative state. Her husband thinks she can be revived1 and asks for a consult with Amelia. Amelia does some screening, Addison notes that the test results reveal the woman is pregnant.

I thought ‘is Private Practice actually going to talk about rape and abuse in long term care facilities?’ And then I looked at the way the husband looked at his wife during the ultrasound and thought ‘oh, no, they are not.’ (Although Sam did helpfully tell us ‘this isn’t that kind of place’ when supporting the institution’s director in his pleas to not call the police to report the rape of a patient. Fail the first, Sam.)

Addison can’t even bring herself to say the word rape. She says ‘had sex with’ and ‘impregnated,’ but she doesn’t say ‘rape.’ The R-word did not cross the screen once during this episode, although at one point Addison mentions ‘consent.’ This is an episode that revolves around rape, and no one ever says the word.

Here’s where things start to get infuriating. Addison maintains that this is wrong, full stop. Ultimately, she calls the police to report that the husband molested his wife. If you are in a coma, you cannot freely consent to sex. If you are married to a person in a coma, your marriage license is not a marriage license for sex any time you want it. Georgie, the patient, was raped. No one says this, and everyone fights Addison on it and vigorously opposes her decision to pursue this to the fullest extent of the law.

Sam attempts to separate work/home life, not understanding why Addison is so enraged. In one scene, she tells him to go home because she has no intention of having sex with him while he’s being a disgusting rape apologist (I would say ‘I do not plan on having sex with you ever again‘ myself, but, hey, that’s just me). But, don’t worry, at the end of the episode, they kiss and make up, even after Sam informs her that she was wrongity wrong wrong and that poor husband was just a troubled man who needed some counseling, that was all. He’s not a rapist or anything, ew! (Although of course they don’t say that word.) And makes sure to let her know how angry he is, and how they will fight about it later.

Personally, I find the thought of being in the same house with someone engaging in that level of rape apologism (or any level, really) utterly abhorrent, let alone having sex with that person. The takeaway from this episode was that Addison was just being oversensitive and unreasonable; Sam says over and over again that she was wrong, the director of the institution wants to avoid culpability for a rape that occurred in his facility on his watch, and Sheldon even says ‘[Georgie’d] be appreciative about everything you’re doing’ to the husband, because evidently there’s nothing women appreciate more than being raped.

Private Practice completely stepped over and elided the very real problem happening right now of rape in institutions, where pregnancies of institutionalised women do occur, when the facility doesn’t insist on sterilising them or putting them on birth control against their will. It completely ignored the very real problem of martial rape, suggesting that marriages and relationships are like sex contracts, whether you are Georgie, comatose and unable to consent, or Addison, having sex with your partner even though he is a dirty dirty rape apologist scumbag. The conflict between Sam and Addison is treated as ‘a work-related spat,’ instead of what it is, which is a fundamental ideological problem; Sam believes it is ok for people to rape people, and Addison does not.

The episode closes with a scene of Charlotte King being pulled into her office by a stranger, who hits and abuses her. As the lights dim, the implication is that she is being raped. The following episode is All About the Rape and How Everyone Deals With It, and even involved consultation with RAINN, evidently. This makes this episode all the more horrifically distasteful; you do an entire episode about rape and apologism in which the word ‘rape’ is never used and the characters identifying it as nonconsensual sex are pooh-poohed, and then you follow up with a Very Special Rape Episode For Ratings and Awards?

Spot the differences here: One episode involves marital rape, the other involves stranger rape. Private Practice, trolling for ratings and praise, goes for the stereotypical stranger rape storyline (featuring, as an added bonus, a mentally ill rapist) while completely erasing a marital rape, even though it’s estimated that less than one third of rapes involve strangers (and that people with mental illness are far more likely to be rape victims than rapists). Thanks, Private Practice, for reinforcing the idea that the only rapes that ‘count’ involve mentally ill strangers who physically assault you.

Are you fucking kidding me, Private Practice?

  1. A not unreasonable thing to think, given the revelation earlier this year that this condition is often misdiagnosed.

4 Comments

  1. I feel sick.

  2. I don’t watch this show, but that’s disgraceful. (and not unfortunately not surprising)

  3. I’m so glad to see this post here. I was livid about that episode and the way everyone on the show handled what happened. Why was Addison the only one who thought it was so bad?? UGH.

    And then the ending of the ep and ensuing focus of the following eps on what happened to Charlotte seems like such a slap – like only stranger rape by hostile violent people counts. We’ll call *that* rape, but not *this.* Mrgmpgh.

  4. Thank you. I’ve been searching for commentary somewhere about this. I was less upset about this week’s episode, because I felt that KaDee Strickland portrayed the triggers well when she was touched and had to face the scene of her rape – something that I have experienced and felt she tried to be true to in her acting. On the other hand, last week’s episode was not only painful to watch, but also infuriating in that it perpetuated a stereotype that helped me live in denial and kept me from speaking for 2 years after I was raped by my then boyfriend. In comments people have left on other sites some have mentioned how they can’t understand why a strong woman like ‘Charlotte’ wouldn’t want to put away the rapist – some even going so far as to imply that to let him back on the street would be criminal, and her fault. The insinuation that Charlotte is responsible for keeping a man from raping other women is absurd and is too often perpetuated. He is responsible for his actions. Period. The justice system is flawed at best when it comes to putting rapists away, and I sense that the next few episodes are going to seriously piss me off more in that regard, though I hope to be proven wrong. Then, as you mentioned, on top of the ‘stranger-danger’ emphasis that is statistically improbable, we have to sit through the disgusting treatment of a comatose woman as well as the addition, as you said, of the attacker being mentally ill. Talk about stigma upon stigma. You would think that a medical show would be concerned with reducing the stigma against mentally ill citizens, but no – in the last few seasons we have seen two women on the show attacked by mentally ill patients – COME ON! The rape of the comatose patient had me shouting at my computer screen, and left me livid after the show was over. They could have taken the opportunity to really address a far more common kind of rape committed by someone the victim knows (which, as you stated, is never referred to as such despite very obviously being just that) but instead chose to focus on a brutal rape committed by a mentally ill stranger – to say it was difficult to watch would be an understatement. I am committed to seeing what happens with the case, and will keep watching to do so, but I am not pleased at all with the writing of this story so far. The acting by KaDee Strickland, on the other hand, has been, in my opinion, commendable. I think she has left an impression on viewers that may help people to better understand what survivors go through, regardless of the kind of rape we have experienced. I hope she continues to perform her role with conviction.