by Dr Elizabeth Yardley, Director of the Centre for Applied Criminology at Birmingham City University

This week’s episode of Broadchurch (S03 E02) was absolutely packed full of the type of issues and debates that anyone involved in or affected by crime and criminal justice (i. e. ALL of us) should be paying attention to.

The episode began with the ‘bigger picture’ – the context of police investigations into sex crimes. Police officers will tell you that sex crimes are often the poor relation, under-resourced and under-staffed when compared to other types of offence. DI Hardy complains “sexual offences never get the same resources as murder”. Later in the episode, a DC enquires about a police dive team and more uniformed officers – and is told this won’t be happening. Sadly, this is all too real. In times of austerity, resources are thinly spread and sexual crimes get an ever shrinking slice of the pie.

Rape myths continued to lurk in the background of this episode too – a continuation from last week. The young female DC is still raising DS Miller’s hackles with questions like “Was she drunk?”. Other hints were dropped throughout the episode that are sure to be picked up later in the series. Trish’s estranged husband talks about her ‘inappropriate’ behaviour – drinking, smoking and ‘cavorting’ with men who aren’t him. Trish had new underwear on that night. The scene that’s being set here is one of a rape victim who is sure to be judged as complicit in her own victimization. Trish is starting to predict the judgements that will almost certainly follow – describing the drinks she had at the party, she says “It sounds like a lot when you add it up, especially on an empty stomach”.

The writers have also sneaked in another thorny issue that has generated many column inches and heated debates in recent years – pornography. Last week we saw how DS Miller’s son had been disciplined at school for distributing porn. It makes another appearance this week in the form of ‘girlie’ calendars on the wall at Humphries Nets. All of this feeds into the overarching narrative of misogyny that runs throughout this series. Explicit sexual imagery isn’t just set dressing or furniture, it’s an important part of the social and cultural landscape within which this story takes place.

Trish’s estranged husband Ian is emerging as a really interesting character. At first he comes across as an ‘Average Joe’, an affable man who looks like anyone’s husband / dad / uncle. But he’s got a dark side. He has a new girlfriend now but judges Trish’s behaviour with the kind of double standard that we see in jealous and controlling people. Her behaviour is ’embarrassing’ for him, he had a go at her about it at the party. Why does he think this is ok? Does he think she is still ‘his’? I have an inkling that the writers will use Ian’s character to broach another really important issue – coercive control, which is now a criminal offence.

The changing nature of the media was also highlighted in this week’s episode. The editor of the local newspaper finds herself pushed out of the picture, subservient to a tupperware-loving and irritatingly cheery corporate type who talks about centralisation, hot-desking and new ways of defining ‘the local’. The context of news has changed in an era of digital media and this is a theme that’s sure to continue. But the locals are still reading the Broadchurch Echo – whether in print or online, as it covers the story of the sexual assault that’s been reverberating around the community via the jungle telegraph.

Just when you thought Broadchurch had covered a similar range of topics in an hour to that which we would cover in a year on our Criminology undergraduate programme, there was even more!

Beth highlighted the struggles of volunteers who work to help victims of crime, “Who supports the support workers?”. She drew attention to the symbolism of language as empowering and disempowering, “We don’t call them victims, we call them clients”. Mark Latimer outlined the various coping strategies he’d tried to help with the trauma of losing his son to murder and decried the insult of the compensation the family received for their loss – a paltry £11,000.

The local priest shared his frustrations at his congregation using the church as a crisis service then abandoning their faith once the storm had passed. Suspects’ rights in relation to DNA samples or ‘biodata’ also made an appearance. This was a busy episode indeed, it was both a treasure trove and a Pandora’s Box.

Series three of Broadchurch is shaping up to be a really powerful crime drama. Not since The Wire have I seen a series that identifies and explores so many criminological themes and issues and manages to pull it off so well. Right now Broadchurch is not only encompassing the experiences of individuals affected by violent crime but it is situating these experiences within a broader cultural, political and social context and doing so in a way that isn’t preachy or condescending. I can’t wait for next week.

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