"It Was Rape" Documentary: Goes Beyond Sexual Assault Statistics With Painful Anecdotes

Jennifer Baumgardner describes rape as “the feminist issue that never changes.” Her new documentary, It Was Rape, tells the story of eight diverse women and their experience with sexual assault. In making this film, Baumgardner wants viewers to empathize and grieve with the victims, rather than hearing statistics that have no emotional impact. It is through these emotions that society can break down rape culture that allows rapists to go free because the victims are too afraid to come forward. The film is especially important now, as the conversation about rape culture is more prevalent than ever. It is an important step in empowering victims.

When Baumgardner started planning her film, she did not need to look very hard to find participants.

“I speak all over the country, giving Feminism 101 lectures, and people often come up to me afterwards and say, ‘I was raped.’ Most have never been asked about it, and have not really been listened to,” she says.

She tried to include men in the film, but they were not as responsive. Not surprisingly, the making of It Was Rape was incredibly difficult, as women were asked to re-live very traumatizing moments on camera. It took five years for the film to be completed.

The film focuses on eight different women from different backgrounds and how sexual trauma as affected their lives. Each victim was attacked by someone they knew.

Baumbgardner’s older sister, Andrea, is featured in the film, who was raped when she was a freshman in high school. After drinking at a party, she went to a bedroom to lie down, and a boy from school came in and “decided to have sex with me,” Andrea says. “He tried to kiss me and I said ‘No, I want to sleep.’ I did not want to scream or be outrageous and told myself, ‘I can withstand this.’”

Andrea was criticized by her school peers for having sex with the boy, but she did not really realize she was assaulted until years later. During her senior year, she even dated her rapist.

Another victim featured, Annie W., was repeatedly raped by her father when she was between the ages of 4 and 10.

“It was very random, and happened six or eight times over six years,” Annie says.

Her father said she would be the "favorite child” if she gave in to her father’s demands. She told the police once she learned her father was raping other young girls. He committed suicide before he was arrested.

Film critic Karen Durbin details her rape by a guy she’d met at a club in the 70s. She initially found him attractive, and brought him home willingly. He became physically violent as soon as they entered the bedroom.

She says she had “to turn away because the fury in his eyes was so frightening.” After forcing himself onto her, he left, and Durbin called her friend, the late Ellen Willis.

“Ellen reminded me that the only reason I’d had sex with him was because I was scared not to, and when you have sex out of fear, it’s rape,” she said. But Durbin blamed herself, since she was drinking and invited him over.

Each woman featured in the film has moved on from he trauma. Christen Clifford, one victims featured, spoke at the film screening in New York City.

“The rape will be a part of our lives forever, but our relationship to it changes overtime," Clifford said. 

Conversations about rape are vital for people to realize how to prevent it, but many victims do not want to talk about their experiences out of fear of being blamed or labeled a “slut.” Jane Doe of Steubenville did not want to come forward at first because she thought “everyone would just blame [her].”

Women speaking out against their rape experience is empowering because it allows other women to realize they are not alone. What it does is get people thinking how we can create a society in which rapists are the ones feeling shame, not victims.  

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