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‘Practice’ doesn’t make perfect

By Ariel Wittenberg

Section: Arts

November 12, 2010

When “Grey’s Anatomy” announced its new spin-off “Private Practice” in 2007, we weren’t too hopeful. Addison was a whiny adulteress and, although she added to the plot, we couldn’t imagine an entire show about her. After the first few episodes, however, we were hooked.

Addison Montgomery, MD, played by Kate Walsh on “Private Practice,” is a strong, smart female lead who knows what she wants and how to get it. Unfortunately, as exemplified by the past two weeks’ episodes, she seems to be the only character with morals that match our own.

Two weeks ago, Addison was called to care for a woman who had become pregnant while comatose. When it was revealed that the woman’s husband was the father of the child, Addison’s fellow physicians decided that the pregnancy was the result of a depressed man unable to come to terms with the fact that his wife would never wake up. Addison was the only one who saw the man for what he was: a rapist.

The problem with the cast’s view on this case is twofold. One, that having sex with an unconscious woman is de-facto rape, because there is no possibility for consent, and two, that being married to your rapist does not negate the rape.

It would have been one thing if the writers of “Private Practice” had used this episode as an opportunity for Addison to school her colleagues on spousal rape but, instead, Addison is belittled throughout the episode, particularly by her boyfriend and fellow doctor, Sam. In fact, the main narrative of the episode comes when Sam and Addison argue about whether work-related arguments should invade their life outside the office. While they are arguing about the rape, the show becomes an advocate for compartmentalizing one’s life, not the legality and morality that is involved when a comatose woman is impregnated.

Last week’s episode, which dealt with a more violent sexual assault, did no better.

In that episode, Charlotte King, a doctor at the practice with Addison and Sam, is the victim of a random assault that leaves her hospitalized with a broken nose and hand and a severe laceration on her arm.

Addison is the only one she tells about the rape, and refuses to go to the police. In doing so, Charlotte reinforces the stigma surrounding rape, telling Addison her desire for justice was outweighed by her fear that she would be pitied or seen as week if people knew the truth.

In addition to this awful reinforcement, throughout this episode, there is the undertone that Charlotte’s ordeal constitutes “real rape,” whereas the rape of the comatose woman one week prior was more of a domestic misunderstanding than a sexual assault.

Even Addison, who advocated for the comatose woman, does not use the word “rape” in the first episode when describing the woman’s pregnancy. She says that the woman was violated, and did not give consent, but the R-word is not mentioned. In contrast, Addison is quick to label Charlotte’s assault as rape.

This discrepancy does not reflect reality, as in the real world it is estimated that less than one third of rapes involve strangers. While we would expect a break from reality from our soap operas, we would appreciate some taste.

Rape is rape, and no rape is socially acceptable. One in six women will be the victim of sexual assault in her lifetime, and delegitimizing one type of rape is deplorable.

Violent rape should not be used as a mechanism to bump up ratings because spousal rape isn’t deemed dramatic enough to attract viewers.

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