Emily Atack: Asking for It?

Emily Atack: Asking for It? (BBC2, 9pm)
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A couple of months ago, BBC2 viewers saw actress and comedian Emily Atack join forces with Ruby Wax and Mel B for the documentary series Trailblazers, which saw them re-tracing the footsteps of intrepid Victorian explorer, Isabella Bird.

Now, Emily is back on the channel on a different and much more personal mission, as she opens up her life and social media messages in an attempt to understand the sexual harassment that she and so many other women have experienced online.

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The presenter, who found fame on the sitcom The Inbetweeners before going on to appear on Dancing on Ice, I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! and her own comedy series The Emily Atack Show, talks about how she has been on the receiving end of unwanted sexual attention from a very young age. If that wasn’t distressing enough, she has repeatedly been told she’s somehow ‘asking for it’.

When the online abuse began to escalate over lockdown, Emily decided it was time to speak out and she began sharing her experiences with her followers, which prompted many of them to tell their own stories of being harassed – and to admit that they had come to accept the abuse as normal.

Emily says: “Over the last two and a half years I’ve been speaking out about my own personal experiences of online sexual harassment. Within that time, one thing has become clear, I’m not alone.

“With this documentary, I am hoping to find answers to the many questions I’ve been asking myself my entire life, and I hope it will go on to help thousands of others too. It’s been wonderful working with Little Gem and the BBC on a project that is so incredibly close to my heart.”

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In this programme, Emily meets up with experts and online safety campaigners to find out why this behaviour has been normalised for so long. She also reaches out to some of the men who have sent her sexually explicit content to try to understand their motives.

Emily, who has previously taken her campaign to make cyber-flashing illegal to parliament, asks what more can be done to make women and girls safer online, asking whether it’s the law that needs to change or if we also have to look at our attitudes.

But one of the more difficult questions raised by the documentary is why so many women who have been on the receiving end of negative attention feel like it is their fault.

Emily admits that she has often used humour as a defence mechanism, but now she’s ready to stop trying to laugh it off and start exploring the real toll that the abuse has taken on her and the ways in which it has shaped her.

By talking about her experiences with others – and opening up to her parents about the issues for the first time – can Emily stop blaming herself and put the responsibility back where it belongs?

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