'Bachelor In Paradise's Sexual Assault Scandal Discussion Had One Glaring Issue

Paul Hebert/ABC

Chris Harrison promised at the beginning of the Bachelor In Paradise Season 4 premiere that everything about the production shutdown would be put out in the open. Yet, when he led a discussion with the cast — minus Corinne Olympios and DeMario Jackson — during the second episode of the season about the sexual assault allegations on Bachelor In Paradise, there was one glaring issue: The allegations were never really addressed. I don't mean that Harrison or anyone else needed to be graphic about what occurred between Olympios and Jackson before the shutdown. But what Harrison and the Bachelor In Paradise cast should have done was address the allegations explain why the situation could have been construed as sexual assault by the whistle-blowing in the first. Then, and only then, could the show have had a truly open dialogue about the role that alcohol plays in consent.

To recap, the shutdown occurred after a producer made a claim that alleged sexual misconduct occurred between Jackson and Olympios. Jackson denied the accusations, and Olympios released a statement where she said she was "trying to make sense of what happened" ad referred to herself as a victim. It should be stated that on Aug. 11, Olympios' rep made it clear to Us Weekly that she never accused Jackson of anything. Warner Bros. and Olympios' lawyers — who each conducted independent investigations — concluded that there was no evidence of misconduct. Filming soon resumed, and Olympios then released another statement saying she was satisfied with the outcome.

Many fans of Bachelor In Paradise kept up with the whirlwind of updates that occurred during the investigation, and the cast of BiP having a discussion about it during the Aug. 15 episode seemed like the time to get everything out in the open. In fact, that's how it was promoted — yet that's not where the show went with the conversation. Instead of directly stating the details of that night, addressing the rumors with the truth, the group led by Harrison just kept referring the incident as "what happened."

Harrison began by saying, "I think it's very important that we sit down and have a serious talk — all of us — about what happened, what didn't happen, and what we all need to do to start this show together." But Harrison and the cast never went into the facts of the moments that spurred a shutdown, and that vagueness rendered the discussion irrelevant to anyone who hadn't studied every report about the allegations. Specifics of the allegations about the supposedly sexual encounter between Jackson and Olympios could give context to the important discussions that the cast touched on — those of consent and alcohol use — and offer a more productive discussion as a result.  

This need for directness is not about satisfying curiosity, since Olympios and Jackson are entitled to their privacy, despite the fact that they were participating on a reality show when the incident occurred. This is about a missed opportunity to have a candid and genuine discussion about consent, which is incredibly straightforward in concept but in practice still reportedly confuses some people. According to these 2016 statistics from a Planned Parenthood survey, which polled 2,012 adults between 18 to 95, not only do people not agree about what consent means and when or how it's given, but the answers vary by gender. For example, only 20 percent of those polled disagreed that "not saying no" is giving consent. Meanwhile, 27 percent of women think consent should be given at every stage of an encounter, compared to 19 percent of men. And 57 percent of women disagreed that a woman who was sexually assaulted while drunk was partially responsible for her assault versus only 48 percent of men.

To be fair, some contestants did make good points about the subject (like Taylor Nolan, who noted that the best consent is verbal, and Ben Zorn, who stated that consent at the beginning of a sexual encounter does not automatically apply to the entire encounter), but the cast's points were general rules and not directly offered with any relation to the alleged incident. The group discussion felt like most conversations that occur on The Bachelor franchise; the contestants often talk around their feelings, but rarely converse about tangible, concrete things. But this time around, the reality TV franchise can't be excused for it.

Sure, on paper, it looks like Harrison and the cast of Bachelor In Paradise talked about all of the issues the allegations brought up: consent, the role of the producers, the impacts of alcohol, and even issues of race and prejudice. But something was missing. Harrison never once said the names of Olympios and Jackson, and they were not mentioned until Raven broke the ice and addressed who was involved in the allegations by name. Harrison seemed to be purposefully vague and, because of that, rather than create a space where people could have a frank discussion about the subtleties that exist in some allegations of sexual assault, the conversation felt like a prerequisite to justify the lighthearted nature that will inevitably epitomize the majority of the rest of the season. And considering how the first trailer made light of the allegations, it's hard not to see it that way.

By their statements, the cast members seemed to blame the media for spreading the wrong story about what actually occurred between Olympios and Jackson. The conversation on the Aug. 15 seemed like the perfect time to set the story straight, but Bachelor In Paradise didn't. Instead, the cast spoke about issues involving Olympios and Jackson without details or word from either former cast member, leading some viewers to feel that the cast was gossiping about Olympios and Jackson. Perhaps, if the series had offered some facts during the two hour broadcast, the discussion may have appeared less like gossip and more like the important conversation it was supposed to be.  

Maybe the show's producers didn't want to — or legally couldn't — say what happened. Perhaps the showrunners thought if Bachelor In Paradise went to a deeper discussion about consent it would make it seem like they were siding with one person over another. But, frankly, the show really missed an opportunity to address the allegations of sexual assault head-on and allow for discussions of the realities that people face when it comes to drinking and giving consent.