Content warning: this article includes references to sexual assault, rape and violence against women and could be triggering for some readers.
Melbourne artist Sophia Hewson, 31, was expecting mixed reactions to her “rape representation” video once it went public, but even she wasn’t prepared for what came next.
In the three-minute clip – titled are you ok bob? – Ms Hewson engages in “un-simulated sex” with a stranger she invited to her apartment in New York City. Throughout it all, her gaze is fixed on the lens of the camera, as if she’s staring right at you – or through you.
As she explains in her official statement, her aim was to depict the victim of sexual assault as the “subject, not an object”.
Now Ms Hewson is experiencing firsthand the sort of online abuse survivors of rape are subjected to.
Women share their experiences of sexual violence on Twitter. Post continues after video.
When I reached out to her for comment, she was declining interview requests “because of the rape threats”. She subsequently linked me to an article on a male supremacist forum which brands her a “fat slut” and a “parasite”.
Let that sink in: the creator of a video meant to bring awareness to sexual assault is now being threatened with rape.
Some have called her three-minute video sick. Others have warned that the short film might be triggering for survivors of sexual assault. And others still have questioned whether it’s a form of exploitation, using real rape victims and their stories to elevate her own personal platform.
In the furore that surrounded Ms Hewson’s video, she said the victim was often “represented with her face down and her eyes averted,” a stereotype she’s determined to shatter.
According to Ms Hewson, the “most confronting aspect” of the video “isn't watching as a woman is struck or penetrated” but rather “seeing her look back out at us from the experience.”
With depictions of rape in popular shows like Game of Thrones often purportedly done for ratings, used as a plot device or else lingering unnecessarily on male reactions, Ms Hewson’s video serves as a much-needed change of pace – all we see of “Bob,” the male in the video, is a hairy arm and a meaty hand.
As for the legitimate critics of the video, she made it clear that she never intended the video to be taken as a legitimate snapshot of rape; she insists assertions that “this video shows the artist being raped” were misattributed to her, and that the video is instead a “rape representation” – no more genuine than that disturbing scene with Sansa and Ramsey from season 6 of Game of Thrones.
No matter your thoughts on the video, it’s safe to say it isn’t in any way an open invitation for trolls to traumatise Ms Hewson with rape threats. Nor does she deserve the sort of toxic abuse swirling around the internet and festering in forums and comments sections. Nothing excuses that sort of response.
And that’s something I think we can all agree on.
*Feature image via www.sophiahewson.com