Saturday, January 26, 2013


Having watched the past two episodes of ‘Silent Witness’ (‘Trust’ and ‘True Love Waits’) I am deeply concerned at the level of violence against women portrayed in these.  In the first there were scenes of violent humiliation and degradation of women victims and the second featured knife attacks, physical brutality, gun-whipping and a woman being scalded with boiling water over a prolonged period.

Whilst understanding that this series uses violence and graphic, often shocking imagery for dramatic effect and recognising the quality of much of the production, I was left deeply troubled by what appeared to be an over-emphasis on these in relation to women to the point that seemed to border on the salacious.

Perhaps my own experience of knowing women who have been raped and the devastating effect this has had on them has sensitised me.  Also, these episodes were broadcast in the aftermath of global attention to the brutal rape of women in India and reflection of the way in which violence against women and girls is still a widespread problem in our own country.  The Government recently stated that 1 in 4 women will suffer domestic violence in their lifetime ( and has made it clear that it seeks to act to prevent this. 

I am unclear as to what such levels of violence in ‘Silent Witness’ is meant to achieve.  As someone who finds violence offensive I recognise that it cannot be to me or others who share similar feelings.  Therefore I wonder if it must be directed to those who do not find themselves troubled by violence and, if so, what effect this has on them. 

My concern is that as violence against women (or, of course, anyone) becomes a norm on television it inevitably has a desensitising effect as reported by the Oxford Journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (19th October, 2010): ‘Watching violent films, TV programmes or video games desensitises teenagers, blunts their emotional responses to aggression and potentially promotes aggressive attitudes and behaviour.’   I believe these latest episodes of ‘Silent Witness’ have moved from using violence with ‘high production values and an original and well-plotted storyline.’ (BBC Editorial Guidelines) to something that is of greater concern as society reflects on how violence against women is to be tackled.  I believe programme makers and editors have to accept that television has a role to play in the way violence is regarded.

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