Katie Shared The Bachelorette’s Most Radically Honest Sexual Assault Story. Here’s What The Show Owes Her Now
Monday’s night’s first Bachelorette group date initially began as a classic Bachelor Nation trauma porn session. Former Bachelor Nick Viall enters “Week 3” as a guest date host and urges Katie Thurston’s men to expose their deepest truths to their Bachelorette. Soon enough, everyone is sharing the level of dirt that fuels a season of romantic suspicion (see: Everything Thomas Jacobs said) and churning out the amount of tears that can power endless 2021 Bachelorette promos. It’s emotional and cynically effective producing.
Then, Katie changes everything. After the men finish baring their souls, Katie announces that she too is going to be “open and vulnerable.” What follows is a frank and delicate survivor’s story from Katie, who recounts being sexually assaulted a decade ago on New Year’s Eve, and reveals that the sex-positive, vibrator-toting woman we now see as the Bachelorette is the result of years of work on her part in the wake of her assault.
Katie’s admission is a brave and historical moment in Bachelor Nation — no such conversation about sexual violence and consent has ever aired on The Bachelorette (Caelynn Miller-Keyes’ survivor story was a watershed Bachelor moment in 2019). After the power of Katie’s decision to open up, The Bachelorette owes her continued space to talk about her painful past and the growth she has cultivated since. That is, if she wants it.
“What I’m going to tell you, a lot of people don’t know. Including my own mom,” Katie begins in the episode. “I had been drinking. And I was involved in a situation where there wasn’t consent. And that is not something I wish upon anybody.”
This is an abrupt and possibly triggering tonal shift after The Bachelorette has built Katie’s season on cheeky sex puns and graphic visual gags. The episode-starting preview for “Week 3” suggests no such serious topic is in the immediate future and the installment lacks a very necessary trigger warning (there is, eventually, a PSA for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, which Katie also shared on Instagram). All of a sudden, without any support from The Bachelorette machine, viewers realize sex isn’t actually a laughing matter for Katie or her love stories.
Following Katie’s assault — which she personally does not define as rape in the episode, and has not in subsequent interviews — she attempted to cultivate a relationship with her attacker, the Bachelorette tells her men. “Because I didn’t want to believe what actually had happened,” she explains. “And when that didn’t work out, for years I had a very unhealthy relationship with sex.” The Bachelorette confirmed on the June 22 episode of Bachelor Nation podcast Talking It Out that “negative relationship” lasted for five years. Katie did not want to have sex with partners or talk about sex. That’s why, in her conversation with her Bachelorette contestants, Katie emphasizes the importance of communication, consent, and not “not guilt-tripping someone” over sex.
In just a few minutes, Katie manages to poignantly debunk multiple myths about sexual violence, including the idea that no one would ever romantically pursue their abuser, or that drinking “too much” makes you susceptible to assault. And, she does all of this in a room exclusively full of men (at least on camera).
“I didn’t think I would go there today. But every single guy here stepped up to the plate and really exceeded my expectations,” Katie says in a talking head; she has since echoed similar sentiments on Talking It Out and in a new Glamour interview. Katie was not expected to share anything on the date, according to Nick Viall on his podcast The Viall Files, and even he was “startled” by her decision to join in the conversation, let alone with something so personal.
“I feel just like this weight has been lifted. I feel liberated,” Katie continues in the talking head.
To close this emotional gauntlet, viewers watched Katie share comforting hugs with the men on the group date and Nick. But then, the topic of sexual assault is completely and speedily dropped for the remainder of the episode, which includes Katie’s post-group date cocktail party. It's an unrealistic treatment of how such a revelation unfolds in relationships, romantic or otherwise.
There is a version of “Week 3” where this hasty narrative change makes sense. If Katie appeared in a talking head interview and explained that she was finished speaking about her past — or uncomfortable continuing to focus on the subject — its immediate disappearance would come off as a considerate television production. We already know The Bachelorette took Katie’s perspective into account: She told Glamour she “did have the option” to keep her story from air, and production gauged her comfort before finalizing the episode. However, we get no signal that Katie put up any barriers on continued conversation around her experiences.
In that sense, “Week 3” — or any future episode — would be improved by showing audiences a true investment in Katie’s mental health after such an unexpected and revealing day of filming. In the most superficial scenario, The Bachelorette could add a scene of Katie debriefing with hosts/mentors Tayshia Adams and Katlyn Bristowe about her decision to come out as a survivor. Supporting Katie in her moments of need are the marquee requirements in Tayshia and Kaitlyn's job descriptions. Or, in an even more powerful possibility, fans could watch Katie enter a closed-door therapy session to process her feelings, whatever they may be. As the Bachelorette told Glamour in the days leading up to “Week 3’s” debut, she “wishes” she had gone to therapy to recover from her assault.
At least fans can feel solace knowing Katie’s men did not ignore her truth for the rest of the season. “Some of those conversations do continue throughout the season,” she told Glamour. “We opened up, and it’s something that is impactful to them with their experiences. It’s great to be able to talk about it so freely.”
Now, it’s up to The Bachelorette to actually show us these discussions — and maybe give viewers a considerate warning beforehand.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).