Bachelor In Paradise’s Sexual Assault Are A Byproduct Of Reality TV’s Blurry Ethics

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The news about why Bachelor in Paradise shut down its fourth season mid-production started as a trickle of rumors, and has since became a full-on flood of increasingly disturbing information.

While production studio Warner Bros. conducts “a thorough investigation,” reports have emerged of a possible sexual assault occurring on set — along with, allegedly, an inexcusable lack of in-the-moment crew intervention when some contestants realized the woman involved may have been too drunk to consent; according to the LA Times’s reporting, a producer seems to have filed a formal complaint after the fact, which is what halted production. (The two contestants in question have since released statements vowing to get to the truth of the situation, with both requesting access to the video of the incident, which Warner Bros. has so far not released to either the contestants or ABC.)
By all accounts, whatever happened on the Bachelor in Paradise set was horrifying — but taken in the context of what reality shows of its type often encourage of their contestants in the pursuit of drama, it’s unfortunately not entirely shocking, either.

To be very clear (so clear that I would skywrite the following if I could afford it): In no way does this mean an assault could have been avoided if only the alleged victim or her alleged assailant hadn’t had so many drinks. Being drunk is not and will never be an adequate excuse for one person assaulting another.

But reality shows like Bachelor in Paradise, which assemble a group of people under one roof and give them almost nothing to do but date and drink in hopes of sparking salacious situations — all while producers nudge them to interact in one way or another in service of the best “storylines” — are all about blurring the line between “normal” interactions and ones “salacious” enough for TV.
Or, to be even more blunt: When a show encourages shitty behavior, truly shitty things just might happen.

This isn’t the first time a reality show soaked in alcohol has ended in sexual assault allegations

On the one hand, this burgeoning Bachelor in Paradise disaster isn’t typical of The Bachelorfranchise, or any reality program. No production wants to be liable for any criminal activity whatsoever, and so it’s a producer’s job to keep things in line as much as it is to find good stories among the cast. Shows like Real World and Road Rules have gotten much stricter over the years about sending home contestants who get into physical fights, drunken or otherwise, and reportedly conduct psychological tests before casting to evaluate contestants for possibly violent behavior.

But even the most carefully worded liability waivers — those contracts protecting shows from contestants suing over potential damages suffered on the show — can’t guarantee that a show will catch every situation before it gets out of control. Stricter policies or no, incidents still happen, to the point where drunken fights have become a staple of the genre; Jersey Shore, for example, featured multiple drunken altercations onscreen, at least one of whichresulted in a lawsuit against MTV.

Incidents like the alleged Bachelor in Paradise assault are still much more rare — but unfortunately not unheard of, either.

In 2003, Real World: San Diego came to a halt when a 22-year-old woman, found naked and disoriented in the house’s bathroom after a night of drinking, alleged that a cast member’s guest had drugged and raped her. According to reports, MTV and Bunim-Murray, the production company behind Real World, did not report the rape allegation, and initially resisted letting the police search the house for evidence. The show lost a month of footage; no arrests were made.

In 2012, MTV settled a lawsuit filed by Tonya Cooley, a Real World alum who accused two of her castmates on Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Ruins of raping her with a toothbrush while she was passed out. (Like the alleged Bachelor in Paradise victim, Cooley reportedly learned about the assault from other castmates.) In its initial response to Cooley’s allegations — which included a charge that the production itself had “condoned, encouraged, and ratified” aggressive behavior from the men while on set — Viacom’s defense included the following jaw-dropping paragraph:

[Cooley] failed to avoid the injuries of which she complains. … [She] was frequently intoxicated (to an extent far greater than other contestants), rowdy, combative, flirtatious and on multiple occasions intentionally exposed her bare breasts and genitalia to other contestants.

As defenses against rape allegations go, saying that the alleged victim “failed to avoid the injuries of which she complains” is such classic victim blaming that it’s almost unbelievable — almost.

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