The Handmaid's Tale Star Talks Victim-Blaming

Photo: Courtesy of Hulu.
The Handmaid's Tale's premise — a puritanical authoritarian dystopia where women are reduced to breeding stock — requires the show's cast to confront the upsetting realities of Gilead, like governnment-sanctioned rape, genital mutilation, corporal punishment, and victim-blaming. (Spoilers for episodes 1-3 ahead.) Those last two practices are inflicted most pointedly on Ofwarren, real name Janine. She has an eye gauged out for insubordination to Aunt Lydia, one of the women in charge of enforcing the system, and, while talking about being gang-raped as a young girl, is humiliated and blamed: "Who led them on? Whose fault was it?" Aunt Lydia asks, prompting the other handmaids to chant "her fault" over and over.
And the actress who plays the ill-fated handmaid, Madeline Brewer, prepared for the horrors of her character and those particularly disturbing scenes by speaking with rape survivors. "I did what research I could about people who are survivors of sexual assault and rape, how it shapes them going forward and how they dealt with being victim shamed — being told that if they were wearing something different it wouldn’t have happened, or if they weren’t in that place at that time it wouldn’t have happened," Brewer told The Hollywood Reporter. "I wanted to know how that affected them. That is part of what shaped Janine and why she needed to escape in her mind. That was a horror; it’s too difficult for her. When she has all of these people telling her this horrific thing that happened to her is her fault, it makes her question whether it was her fault. It was very important to me to play an accurate representation of someone talking about their sexual assault in that scene."
She continued, likening this extreme and literal version of victim-blaming to what we see in the real world."[Then] hat breakdown of, 'This is your fault, you led them on.' I mean, how damaging is that to someone who is a survivor of sexual assault? How screwed up is that? To do that to someone’s psyche.... And how we do it all the time in the media and on Twitter and in the world. 'What was she wearing?' 'Was she drinking?' That is so demented to me, to even question anyone other than the rapist. It’s so fucked." And that's the truth: you don't have to ritually chant "her fault" to cause deep psychological harm to a rape survivor.

More from TV

R29 Original Series