We need clearer content warnings about sexual violence in TV series, movies and games

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We need clearer consumer advice from the Classification Board about depictions of sexual violence.

In Australia, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men report (and many more don’t report) having been sexually assaulted after the age of 15*. We hear about crimes involving sexual violence almost every day in the mainstream media, where reporting about it still has a long way to go.

It shouldn't need to be spelled out, but the difference between consensual sex and sexual violence, such as sexual assault or rape, is huge. A scene in a TV series, movie, game or book where all parties agree to sex is not in any way the same as a scene where someone is sexually controlling, hurting or overpowering an unwilling person.

A recent episode in Season 2 of The Handmaid's Tale, for example, warned only of 'sex scenes' and 'violence' before the show, yet contained a rape scene - as many other episodes in both seasons have. A more-specific warning could have helped viewers to decide ahead of time whether or not they were comfortable watching distressing content. 

As a community, we need to have some hard conversations about this issue - about the language we use when referring to sexual violence, about the bigger societal issues underlying it and about how to encourage change.

Being clearer about depictions of sexual violence in the materials we see/read/play/engage with every day plays an important role in this.

Classification Board

As well as deciding ratings for materials like film, TV and games, the Classification Board (under Federal Minister Mitch Fifield) gives consumer advice on content themes, so that we can make informed choices about what we view or play. There are six categories: themes, violence, sex, language, drug use and nudity.

The National Classification Code** says that classification needs to consider community concerns about ‘…depictions that condone or incite violence, particularly sexual violence’. It also states that ‘everyone should be protected from exposure to unsolicited material that they find offensive’.

It's alarming - given the rates of sexual violence in our community and the high exposure we have to problematic reporting about it - that there’s no specific category to warn about sexual violence.

The categories ‘sex’ and ‘violence’ in themselves don’t adequately cover depictions of sexual violence. Adding a ‘sexual violence’ category would protect those who may have experienced this horrific trauma, as well as others who just don’t want to be exposed to it. 

It might also help to promote clearer understanding within the community - both about the very broad distinction between consensual sex and sexual violence, and about the bigger issues underlying acts of sexual violence.

Please sign this petition to ask Mitch Fifield to improve the existing content warnings.

* Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2018)
** www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2013C00006 



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