Real World Ruins: Tonya Cooley Sues MTV for Filming Rape
Two months back, I wrote a post for BlogHer about the not-so-cleverly disguised rape clause in MTV's contracts for Real World cast members. The clause (Stipulation 7) states that:
“Interacting with other cast members carries the risk of "non-consensual physical contact" and should you contract AIDS, etc. during such an interaction, MTV is not responsible."
While I believe that each individual is responsible for their own actions, it is no secret that MTV creates powder keg environments to provoke dangerous and vulnerable situations to bolster ratings. They antagonize through a steady supply of alcohol and hide behind the lens of a camera as in the case of The Real World San Diego where there was a rape allegation that happened in the MTV home. Unfortunately, MTV was said to be so uncooperative that the house was raided by police and evidence (including video footage) came up inconclusive since the incident supposedly happened in one of the bathrooms (the only place cameras are not allowed). The cast member who accused the friend of another cast member of the rape, died three years later of cystic fibrosis. It is unclear how thorough MTV's own investigation was and charges were never filed.
Now, Tonya Cooley, originally featured on The Real World: Chicago, is suing MTV for sexual assault and being raped by two cast members using a toothbrush while filming Real World/Road Rule Challenge: The Ruins in Phuket, Thailand in 2009. Horrific as the claims are, it takes a fearless woman to make this case public and go up against the Goliath, MTV. Real World producers immediately dismissed the accusations as “baseless” despite there being apparent footage of the incident, and describe Cooley as "provacative" in her official Bio on MTV.com.
Cooley's claims also challenge the limited definitions for what defines “rape,” a term currently up for discussion (in terms of broadening the meaning) by the FBI. According to reports, Cooley was penetrated by the tooth brush of a male cast member who was not involved in the incident. Producers allegedly replaced the cast member's toothbrush but did nothing about the assault. Currently, the legal definition of rape is “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will”. The current term excludes oral and anal penetration as well as cases when women were under the influence as well as excluding male victims. There is some skewed idea that rape is something that happens to women in a back alley while being held at gunpoint. So many sexual crimes and rapes go unreported or seem to go unreported because they do not fit in this very narrow definition which in turn grossly misrepresents statistics which means there isn’t enough funding for police force to prevent such crimes or funding to handle the aftermath of such a traumatic event.
Let’s be real here, public funding goes where the numbers are. Shows like The Real World absolutely should be held accountable for their hand in provoking and creating such dangerous situations for cast members, and instead they have succeeded in burying these incidents by premptively having cast members sign onerous contracts. But Tonya Cooley is taking this fight to MTV’s door and suing her accused assailants as well as MTV for the trauma she claims she suffered during shooting. Again, MTV claims the accusations are false, but regardless if there is enough evidence to prove Cooley’s case, it is inspiring despite the gruesome terms, that more victims of MTV’s inhumane and misogynistic practices are speaking up and shedding light on one of the darker aspects of our overexposed modern society.
Lindsey Anthony blogs at RewindRevise.com