SALT LAKE CITY — The #MeToo movement has come to ABC's reality TV show “The Bachelor.”
Monday night's episode was a milestone for “The Bachelor,” marking the first time a contestant has talked about surviving sexual assault on the show.
On the episode, contestant Caelynn Miller-Keyes told bachelor Colton Underwood that a man drugged and raped her at a party during her sophomore year of college. Miller-Keyes, 23, shared the story with Underwood, 27, while on a one-on-one date in Singapore.
In the age of #MeToo, reality dating shows such as “The Bachelor” and Britain's "Love Island" have faced increased scrutiny from publications, including The New York Times and USA Today, for exploiting private relationships and capitalizing on trite gender roles and outdated sexual politics. Critics of the "The Bachelor," such as Suzie Gibson of The Conversation and Khushi Kapoor of The Odyssey, point out that it pits women against other women in a degrading, sexualized beauty pageant to win one man's attention. The show also rarely casts women over the age of 30, as The Washington Post pointed out. In addition, the women often conform to traditional standards of beauty and have thousands of Instagram followers to prove it. The show has also struggled in the past with racial representation; in 2017, Rachel Lindsay became the first black "Bachelorette" in the franchise's history.
“The Bachelor” has also come under attention from Vox for exploiting sexual intimacy and blurring the lines of consent. The franchise is well-known for its makeout scenes and cocktail parties, and, especially in past years, it was rare to see a contestant onscreen without a glass of champagne. In 2017, production of “Bachelor in Paradise” was temporarily shut down due to an incident between a male and female contestant in which the woman appeared “too drunk to consent,” the Post reported. Warner Bros. later conducted an investigation and said it found no evidence of misconduct. Producers responded to the incident by instituting stricter rules: Contestants are now only allowed two alcoholic beverages per hour, and if two people want to spend the night together, they have to give verbal consent on camera, EOnline reported.
Miller-Keyes' story thus marked a turnaround moment for the show, opening up an opportunity for "The Bachelor" to take on more serious topics, portray women in a more complex light, and potentially even provide contestants with an empowering platform.
Miller-Keyes told Underwood she and three of her female friends had gone to a party and a group of guys drugged their wine. She passed out due to the drugs, and when she woke up, there was a man in her bed. Miller-Keyes later learned that he had had sex with her while she was unconscious and another man, surrounded by his fraternity brothers, had taken pictures and Snapchats. Some of Miller-Keyes’ friends were also assaulted. It is unclear if her friends chose to press charges.
Miller-Keyes said she then tried to get a rape kit, but was turned away by the hospital she went to. When she finally obtained a kit, the results were inconclusive because of the amount of time that had passed, she said. Miller-Keyes met with an attorney and sought justice for what had happened to her, and this resulted in one of the men being expelled from the university, as the Post reported. Whether he was ultimately convicted of the rape is unclear, but Miller-Keyes told PEOPLE she did file a police report and "I can live with myself and know that at least I tried and I pushed and I went after justice."
Miller-Keyes, who graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in broadcast journalism in 2017 and was named Miss North Carolina and runner-up for Miss USA in 2018, said she didn’t tell her parents about the rape for almost a year because she felt so much shame and guilt.
“It’s not a conversation that I enjoy having with anyone,” Miller-Keyes told Underwood. “But it’s something that’s really important, especially in relationships, because it’s something that ... has come in between intimacy and just a lot of different things in my life.”
She added, “It’s the most difficult thing in the world. It’s so painful, and it screws up every ounce of you. It took months for people ... like, men would like, touch my shoulder or graze my shoulder and I was triggered. It was awful. Like I couldn’t leave my house. It was so, so bad.”
Underwood listened to Miller-Keyes share the entirety of her story before he said, “I want you to know: With me, you’re safe.”
Underwood also discussed his experience dating a survivor of sexual assault, alluding to his past relationship with Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, one of hundreds of women assaulted by former USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar, who has been sentenced to 175 years in jail.
“I have had a situation in my past where I was in a relationship in which she was sexually abused,” Underwood said. “For me, that was the hardest thing I ever had to watch. Going through something with someone, looking into her eyes and just knowing, like, the pain associated with it.”
Underwood, who revealed he is a virgin during Becca Kufrin’s season of the "Bachelorette" in 2018, told Miller-Keyes his virginity is tied in part to this past relationship.1 comment on this story
“Everybody who asked me is like, why are you a virgin? They expect this simple answer. They want a reason. And my reason’s complicated,” he said.
After Miller-Keyes and Underwood’s conversation, the network aired a public service announcement for RAINN (the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), including a phone number and website.
Viewers took to Twitter to share their reactions to Miller-Keyes’ story.
Underwood and Miller-Keyes also shared their perspectives on the conversation on Twitter, with Underwood calling it a moment “bigger than the show itself.”