The Steubenville rape trial and the threats hurled at Zerlina Maxwell and Adria Richards through social media have reignited the societal battle against rape culture, particularly in the United States. Activist, writer and filmmaker Jennifer Bumgardner is contributing discourse to this progressive push with her second documentary “It Was Rape.” She describes rape as the “feminist issue that never changes” and is using the one-hour documentary to tell the narratives of eight diverse women and their varying experiences with sexual assault.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found one in six women and one in six men living in the United States have been raped at least once, but one aspect fueling rape culture is not understanding what constitutes rape, sexual assault or sexual abuse. “It Was Rape” aims to raise collective consciousness, while also highlighting unconventional rape stories society tends to disregard. Bumgardner wanted to offer a platform for marginalized voices.
“I speak all over the country, giving Feminism 101 lectures, and people often come up to me afterwards and say, ‘I was raped,” Bumgardner explained when asked her purpose for curating interviews. “Most have never been asked about it, and have not really been listened to.”
She also used intersections of race, class and gender, including straight-identified, lesbian-identified and queer women, to promote inclusion and diversity in the documentary. The one connecting thread between all of the women featured is the sadness of their stories.
Baumbgardner’s older sister, Andrea, is one of the featured interviewees. She was raped during a party as a freshman in high school. A classmate followed her into a room and had sex with her without her consent. “I did not want to scream or be outrageous and told myself, ‘I can withstand this,” she explained in the documentary. Andrea didn’t realize she had been sexually assaulted until years after the rape. She even dated her rapist when she was a senior in high school, but that didn’t negate his brutal act.
Annie W., another victim highlighted in the documentary, was repeatedly raped by her father until she was 10.
“It was very random, and happened six or eight times over six years,” she said. Her father was manipulative and often told her she would be his “favorite child” if she caved to his sexual demands. She informed the police when she discovered her father was also raping other girls, but he committed suicide before he could be arrested and tried.
Film critic Karen Durbin was raped in the 1970s after she invited a man home from a club. He was violent toward her from the moment she opened her bedroom door, so she had sex with him out of fear. After he left, she called Ellen Willis, a close friend and famed feminist journalist.
“Ellen reminded me that the only reason I’d had sex with him was because I was scared not to, and when you have sex out of fear, it’s rape,” she said.
All of these stories and the others featured are poignant because Bumgardner uses their lived realities to push rape out of theoretical lenses and into our lives. These women could be our friends, neighbors, sisters or mothers, so seeing their pain spawns understanding of rape’s impact.
“It Was Rape” is being retailed for institutional and individual viewing. The documentary has also been released to schools to revamp sexual education courses and battle rape stigma and culture.
Check out the “It Was Rape” trailer below.