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BBFC looks to toughen up rules of screen depictions of sexual violence

The Guardian logo The Guardian 24/06/2018 Andrew Pulver
‘Might have been more appropriately restricted to 18’ … the BBFC asked members of the public to review its decisions on 15-rated films featuring sexual violence, including Don’t Breathe, starring Jane Levy © Getty ‘Might have been more appropriately restricted to 18’ … the BBFC asked members of the public to review its decisions on 15-rated films featuring sexual violence, including Don’t Breathe, starring Jane Levy

In the future, films containing scenes of rape or sexual violence are likely to be given more restrictive certificates by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), it has emerged.

At a conference organised by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, where BBFC director David Austin gave the keynote speech, results from the organisation’s five-yearly public consultation indicated increased concern about such scenes, meaning certification guidelines may become stricter.

As part of the consultation, members of the public were asked to evaluate the BBFC’s decision on a number of films that included “sexual or sexualised violence” that were given a 15 certificate. These included Wind River, a “crime western” written and directed by Taylor Sheridan; US horror film Don’t Breathe; and The Innocents, a French-made drama about brutalised nuns during the second world war, directed by Anne Fontaine.

In a statement to the Guardian, the BBFC said that a number of the films “might have been more appropriately restricted to 18”. In the case of The Innocents – which was given a PG13 certificate in the US – the initial conclusion was that a 15 certificate was correct. The BBFC is now partway through the second stage of its consultation, which surveys around 10,000 members of the public.

The BBFC statement says: “It is premature to say what adjustments might finally be made to [our] guidelines but it is certainly fair to say that the [research] suggests heightened public concerns about the issue of sexual violence and some desire for a further tightening of our already strict standards at 15.”

At present, the BBFC’s guidelines state: “Any depiction of sadistic or sexual violence which is likely to pose a harm risk will be subject to intervention through classification, cuts or even, as a last resort, a refusal to classify.” Films with a 12A certificate may contain sexual violence that is “implied or briefly and discreetly indicated, and its depiction must be justified by context”, while in 15-certificate films “there may be detailed verbal references to sexual violence but the depiction of sexual violence must be discreet and justified by context”.

Previous BBFC research has emphasised public concern over such material, particularly scenes that “make sexual or sadistic violence look appealing, reinforce the suggestion that victims enjoy rape [and] invite viewer complicity in rape or other harmful violent activities”. In the past, cuts have been demanded from films as varied as No Orchids for Miss Blandish, Psycho, Deliverance and Emmanuelle, while in 1988 the Jodie Foster rape drama The Accused was passed uncut with an 18 certificate “on the grounds that it does not exploit or eroticise sexual violence but is intended to make a serious point”.

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