Michaela Cole may have started writing I May Destroy You (BBC One 2020-) as a means of overcoming her own sexual assault and trauma, but the by-product of this 12-part, widely acclaimed TV series has meant numerous others are helped too. Not just by way of validation for those with similar experiences, but also as a source of education in its capacity to raise awareness for those who have not. Cole’s depiction of various types of sexual assault in IMDY is equally as striking as it is uncomfortable, but her exploration of stealthing – the non-consensual removal of a condom during sex – is particularly noteworthy.
This is because stealthing is relatively unheard of, and until recently did not have a name. Nor was it considered a crime. It also operates under a consensual guise, which Cole effectively dismantles to reveal the covert techniques and scripts that perpetrators use to placate incredulity in their victims, when exposed (slides 1-3, series 1, ep. 4). By doing so, Cole informs audiences of the red flags to be aware of, and confirms stealthing is rape and a crime in The UK. But Cole also speaks directly to the offenders, telling them, through her meticulous observation of the space they occupy between consent and rape, that I see you: your attention to detail is noted and reflected back to you, and your get-out clause from accountability is glaringly transparent.
It is this confidence and assertiveness that makes IMDY more of a triumph than a tragedy, and Arabella (Cole’s character), not to mention Cole herself, more of a survivor than a victim. Rape is less about sex and more about power and control, and by publicly ‘outing’ their traumatic experiences and refusing to remain silent, Artemisia Gentileschi, Arabella and Michaela Cole, all take the power back for themselves. Artemisia Gentileschi did this 400 years ago with the portrayal of violence in her oil paintings, and Michaela Cole does it in the #MeToo era with her sharply written series I May Destroy You.