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Rose Plays Julie allows victims to escape a system stacked against them

Trigger Warning // Sexual Violence

Trigger Warning // Sexual Violence

Revenge fantasy, Rose Plays Julie, allows sexual assault victims to escape a system stacked against them.

Seething female-rage is at the core of directing-duo Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor’s Rose Plays Julie. In a world where sexual assault is buried, not criminalised, Rose (Ann Skelley) digs up the unspeakable truth of her past, turning her identity quest into a search for vengeance.

This psychological thriller plays out like a Greek tragedy, untouched by the criminal justice system (CJS), survivors of rape and sexual violence are empowered to take the law into their own hands.

The complete absence of the police in Rose plays Julie, exposes the crippling failures of the legal system in our society today. When only 1.6% of rapes in England and Wales reported to police even result in charge, and 52% of police found guilty of sexual misconduct keep their jobs, who is our CJS serving?

In this system, sexual predators are granted impunity, allowing women’s bodies to be repeatedly violated without consequence. This dark reality has caused victims of sexual crimes to no longer turn to the police. In fact, ‘The Decriminalisation of Rape’ report conducted by The Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ), found that only 2 in 10 women who have been raped report it to the police.

Molloy and Lawlor offer an acute commentary on the state of our policing, by completely eradicating them from the narrative. The absence of the police in Rose plays Julie was a relief, it erased a CJS which stifles victims and instead empowered them to regain control.

In this revenge thriller, our heroines go up against a society which suppresses and minimalises the experience of sexual assault.

In this revenge thriller, our heroines go up against a society which suppresses and minimalises the experience of sexual assault.

When the normalisation of rape culture is embedded into our institutions, where do you turn for help? For Rose, the only option was to take matters into her own hands. When she witnesses a sexual assault in her university halls, she does not scream for help or find institutional authority, instead she smashes down the door and disables the attacker herself.

The image of predators taking advantage of intoxicated women behind closed dorm doors is symbolic of an epidemic on university campuses. In their book, Unsafe Spaces, authors  John Edmonds and Eva Tutchell found that there are a minimum of 50,000 sexual assaults at universities every year.

Though many universities declare a ‘zero tolerance of rape’ policy, reported assaults repeatedly get swept under the carpet, allowing the accused to continue to study alongside their accusers.This reality is shown in Rose Plays Julie as in the next scene, the attacker continues to walk the halls of the university freely, the only evidence of his crimes marked on his bruised face.

Universities are not only failing to protect students from sexual assault, but they are also actively working to protect the perpetrators. Last year the BBC discovered many universities were offering students money and using NDAs to cover up sexual assault. Sexual predators are not just protected by institutions, they are able to hide within them. A 2018 NUS survey showed one in eight students had experienced sexual misconduct from staff members.

This corruption is also evident within the police, as the recent details of the rape and murder of Sarah Everard recounts how Wayne Couzens, a serving police officer, used his position to lure her into a trap.

This case led to a stream of new advice for women, adding to the ever-growing list of ‘ways to avoid getting murdered’, now including not trusting serving police officers with official ID. It is no secret that the systems we are told to run to, can also be those we should run from, leaving victims with truly nowhere left to go.

Rose Plays Julie’s avoidance of police intervention not only symbolises the decriminalisation of rape, but also highlights the degrading nature of a Criminal Justice System which works to disempower, disillusion and dehumanise sexual assault victims. This distressing process can be detrimental to the recovery from rape, the aftermath of which leaves survivors with trauma that affects every aspect of life, stripping away a sense of security and identity. 

The concept of split identities runs through Rose plays Julie, alter-egos are weaponised, public and private spaces split the world into two sides: the stage and behind the curtain. Peter (Aidan Gillen), a coldblooded sexual predator, presents himself as a successful archaeologist and family man. His duality is used to not only disarm his prey, but also to protect himself from consequences.

This façade does not work on the audience, who are aware of his crimes – to us his sinister veils are transparent. His family home, completed with cheesy portraits of his wife and step children, is a carefully curated boobytrap. The image of his face plastered on his newly published book, does not smile, it snarls. All of these props would work in Peter’s defence in trial, supporting his masquerade as a decent man, incapable of rape.

Identity is often weaponised in sexual assault cases.

Identity is often weaponised in sexual assault cases; defence lawyers arm themselves with character references that sing their clients praises and comb through survivor’s online profiles in search of defaming evidence.

Though in 2015, Brock Allen Turner was caught penetrating an unconscious woman in Stanford, the court case became a gruelling character assassination of the victim, Chanel Miller. All aspects of her life were under inspection, every decision she made, what she wore, what expression she pulled were scrutinised and levelled against her in court. While Brock Turner was a Stanford Athlete who made a mistake, Miller was portrayed as the irresponsible drunk girl at the party.

The shifting of blame in sexual violence trials has a hall of mirrors effect, disorientating the accuser and absolving the accused. Even the judge who handed down a whole-life tariff to Wayne Couzens spoke of Everard being a “wholly blameless victim”, as if sexual assault survivors are often culpable for crimes against them.

This traumatic process is bypassed in Rose Plays Julie, as the survivors act independently of a justice system which degrades them. The mythic thriller allows two women scarred by rape, to heal on their own terms.

Rose weaponises her own alter-ego to infiltrate Peter’s world, she lays herself out as bait to get her revenge. In this Greek tragedy, the two heroines trap the domestic monster in a web of his own crimes. Peter can no longer separate his sexual violence away from his public image, now that blood stains his cream carpets and golf trophies.

Compartmentalisation of sexual violence allows perpetrators to walk away from a crime unscathed. At the end of Brock Turner’s trial, his father read out a statement in which he said harsh punishment of his son would be “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20-plus years of life”. A sentiment which resulted in Turner only serving three months in jail, despite being charged with three accounts of sexual assault.

In our warped legal system, judge and jury are unwilling to drag acts of rape and sexual assault into the cold light of day, instead allowing them to hide within the shadow of a ‘great guy’ who made a mistake. In one of the dozen letters sent to Turner’s judge calling for a reduced sentence, one of his friends claimed that his acts were not in the realm of sexual violence:

“This is completely different from a woman getting kidnapped and raped as she is walking to her car in a parking lot. That is a rapist. These are not rapists. These are idiot boys and girls having too much to drink and not being aware of their surroundings and having clouded judgement.”

In a Criminal Justice System where victims are gaslit on an institutional level, the successful prosecution of rape eludes us. Rose Plays Julie does not succumb to this courtroom rhetoric, where rapists slip in between blurred lines, escaping criminal records. Instead, the film subverts a course of justice which continuously fails sexual assault survivors, to achieve the only retribution available to them.

If you’ve been affected by any issues in the piece above, the following organisations may be able to provide help and advice.

  • Rape Crisis offers support and advice to victims of rape and sexual assault, no matter how long ago the attack was. 0808 802 99 99
  • SurvivorsUK offers advice and support to male victims of rape and sexual assault. Text on 020 3322 1860.
  • Brook provides free sexual health and wellbeing services for young people in the UK. Brook’s services include local clinics and online digital sex and relationships tool.