reality tv

If a man is comfortable enough to do this in front of a film crew...

Content warning: This story includes descriptions of sexual assault that may be distressing to some readers.

Reality TV isn't the place you expect to learn about best-practice responses to sexual harassment. If anything, the genre as a whole has an appalling track record when it comes to protecting the physical and emotional health of participants.

Yet last night on Below Deck Down Under, viewers got a front-row seat to what it looks like when bystanders and people in charge refuse to turn a blind eye.

If you're not familiar with the show's premise, the multi-season Below Deck franchise and its spin-offs centre around the lives of crew members working on super yachts in luxury locations all over the world. Think: Vanderpump Rules, but in international waters.

Episode seven of the Australian iteration of the series aired last night, and from the outset, trouble was brewing. Members of the crew celebrate their biggest tip of the season with a raucous night out, involving much drinking and celebrating. Established creep, bosun Luke Jones, who is paying a lot of unwanted attention to an inebriated Margot Sisson, a stew who he has previously kissed without her permission backdrops these festivities.

Enter: Chief Stew Aesha, who, already a beloved cast member, promptly elevates herself to goddess status for reasons that will soon become evident. Seeing Margot passed out on Luke's lap and identifying the power imbalance (and impossibility of consent) in the situation, she intervenes, refusing to leave Margot's side even after putting her to bed. 

Chief Stew Aesha Scott making sure Margot Sisson was put to bed safely. Image: Slice.


After seeing Margot off to sleep, Aesha leaves her in bed and closes the door before a power outage plunges the boat into darkness. This is when Luke, true to predatory form, sneaks back to Magot's room in nothing but a towel and proceeds to get into bed with her.

Producers - breaking the fourth wall to protect Margot - drag Luke out of the room, while he protests for them to "f**k off for a second".

The producers trying to drag Luke out of Margot's cabin. Image: Slice.


The Captain of the yacht, Jason Chambers, is woken by our hero Aesha, and his action is swift and unequivocal: he fires Luke, effective immediately.

Concurrent to all of this, Second Stewardess Laura had been whipping up her own controversy, making advances towards another deckhand, Adam Kofra, in spite of him rejecting these advances all night. Finding her in Adam's room trying to straddle him, producers also intervene; the next day, she is also fired.

At every level of this week's episode, we saw what it looks like when we collectively refuse to ignore predatory behaviour. From Aesha's staunch protection of her colleague, to the producer's intervention and the Captain's swift zero-tolerance response, it was a glimpse of what's possible when we take personal responsibility for the safety of vulnerable people.


Watch: Captain of the yacht, Jason Chambers quickly dismissed Luke and Laura for their actions. Post continues after video.

Video via Slice/ET Canada.

Every woman watching, and likely some men too, will have a similar story of having to intervene when a creep starts circling a drunk friend. I remember (or don't) a night out in my twenties when my friend literally had to chase a man away with her high-heeled shoe brandished in front of her, so determined was he to try to get my slurring-drunk, in-no-way-consenting self into a cab with him. I've stepped in myself in several similar situations (though disappointingly, never wielding a Wittner pump like a prison chiv).

Yet this unspoken self-policing we've all had to sign on to is the result of a bigger problem. For too long, so-called 'grey area' sexual assaults (and let me be crystal clear, there is no grey area when you take advantage of a drunk person who cannot consent) have gone unpunished. Women too often blame themselves, doubt themselves and if god forbid they manage to report the assault, have that same finger of blame pointed at them by authorities and the legal system. 


We had a brief window of relative reprieve post #metoo, where for a moment it seemed like the social climate made disclosing sexual assault a little less daunting. In recent years though, the pendulum-swing away from believing women has been swift and brutal.

If you want proof of just how historically easy it has been for men to get away with this sort of behaviour, just consider the fact that Luke was comfortable enough to carry all of this out with a film crew present. Find me a better metaphor for male entitlement.

And yes, Laura's behaviour in the episode was similarly problematic, and yes, deserving of her dismissal. Though perhaps, it must be said, without the implied threat of violence that hangs like a fog over unwanted advances like this from a man. 

This episode has made headlines, with many rightly praising the response of Aesha, Captain Jason and producers. But the dark truth behind those headlines is how often assaults like this occur without the cameras rolling. Without a friend to intervene. Without the unquestioning belief of the survivor, and without any consequence at all for the perpetrator.

We might be a long way from figuring out how to stop predatory men before they offend. But until we can, we have to start believing women.

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.

Feature Image: Slice.