CTV re Complex of Fear

(CBSC Decision 94/95-0022)
M. Barrie (Chair), A. MacKay (Vice-Chair), P. Fockler, T. Gupta, R. Stanbury


A viewer wrote to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and to the CTV Television Network, concerning the network’s airing of the film “Complex of Fear” on June 13, 1994 at 9 p.m. The movie of the week related the true story of a rapist living in an apartment complex and the police investigation of a number of rapes that occurred during the time frame covered by the film.

The complainant felt that the film had depicted, without viewer advisories,scenes of violence against women and glamourized rape. In his letter of July26, 1994, he wrote,

I saw three rapes and one attempted rape … they openly showedthe pain the women were experiencing, over a period of severalminutes …. In one case, the woman was bound at her hands andfeet to the bed, and the rapist ran his hand between her breasts,saying that she would enjoy the event. At another time, thescene opens with an attractive women (sic) looking out herwindow, and she's wearing a bra without a shirt. The rapistenters the room and throws her to the bed, binds her and saysshe's going to enjoy this, but she screams and screams. Inanother scene a woman is seen playing with your (sic) youngson. She leaves the room and is attacked by the rapist and (sic)lays on top of her. He is startled to see the young boy run in tohelp his mother, but he's violently pulled back into another roomand locked there. While his mother is screaming for help, thelittle boy pounds on the door, saying “don't hurt my mom, don'thurt my mom.” All of this and not one warning from … CTV thatviewer discretion is advised.

This sort of film is insidious and dangerous, perhaps more sothan hard core pornography. This film invades homes ofinnocent people and children who will watch scenes of violence. This film hides under the guise of mainstream movie making,offering at first glance to be an important film about violenceagainst women. In fact, it is a movie that IS violent againstwomen and children and to some men as well.

The producers of this film glamorized rape, manipulated theviewer and had the raw audacity to suggest the film is aboutpreventing rape ….

On October 14, 1994, the CRTC referred the complaint to the CBSC forconsideration. The Vice-President of Corporate Communications at CTV hadalready received the complaint and had replied on July 11, 1994. In her letter,she apologized for the omission of viewer advisories and explained thenetwork's decision to telecast the film. She stated,

It is quite clear to me that there should have been a vieweradvisory at the beginning of the feature and before the scenesyou referenced. The producers acknowledge they were remissin not placing those advisories on the film. They felt that since itwas based on a true story, was telecast post-9 p.m., and waspreceded by an explicit promotional opening describing the story,an advisory was not necessary. In this instance they made thewrong decision.

We also re-reviewed the movie in tandem with the CABVoluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programmingto which we adhere. The Code states that broadcasters shallensure that women are not depicted as victims of violence unlessviolence is integral to the story. We believe the violencecontained in “Complex of Fear” was integral to the story.

Thank you for writing to us. We apologize to you and otherviewers for the lack of advisories on this film.

The complainant was unsatisfied with this response. He wrote to the CBSCon November 14, 1994, explaining that,

In her July 11, 1994 letter, [the Vice-President of CorporateCommunications] of CTV, indicated the producers were remissin not including viewer advisories during the film. She alsoapologized for their action. Given the fact that thousands ofpeople saw this film, CTV owes an apology to all its viewers.

The complaint was referred to the CBSC's Ontario Regional Council foradjudication.

Article 1.0 (Content), Voluntary Code regarding Violence in TelevisionProgramming


Canadian broadcasters shall not air programming which:

  • contains gratuitous violence in any form*
  • sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence

(*”Gratuitous” means material which does not play anintegral role in developing the plot, character or theme ofthe material as a whole).

Article 3.0 (Scheduling), Voluntary Code regarding Violence in TelevisionProgramming


Programming which contains scenes of violence intendedfor adult audiences shall not be telecast before the lateevening viewing period, defined as 9 pm to 6 am.


Accepting that there are older children watching televisionafter 9 pm, broadcasters shall adhere to the provisions ofarticle 5.1 below (viewer advisories), enabling parents tomake an informed decision as to the suitability of theprogramming for their family members.

Article 5.0 (Viewer Advisories), Voluntary Code regarding Violence inTelevision Programming


To assist consumers in making their viewing choices,broadcasters shall provide a viewer advisory, at thebeginning of, and during the first hour of programmingtelecast in late evening hours which contains scenes ofviolence intended for adult audiences.


Suggested language for suitable viewer advisories isoutlined in Appendix A.

Article 7.0 (Violence against Women), Voluntary Code regarding Violence inTelevision Programming


Broadcasters shall not telecast programming whichsanctions, promotes or glamorizes any aspect of violenceagainst women.


Broadcasters shall ensure that women are not depicted asvictims of violence unless the violence is integral to thestory being told. Broadcasters shall be particularlysensitive not to perpetuate the link between women in asexual context and women as victims of violence.


Broadcasters shall refer to the Canadian Association ofBroadcasters' code on Sex Role Portrayal for guidanceregarding the portrayal of women in general.

The Regional Council members reviewed all the correspondence and viewedan air-check viewing cassette of “Complex of Fear”. The Council's decisionwas unanimous.

The Regional Council explored the question of gratuitous violence which, asdefined in the Code, is “material which does not play an integral role indeveloping the plot, character or theme of the material as a whole.” It alsoexplored the question of violence which “sanctions, promotes or glamorizesany aspect of violence against women.” The latter question was dealt with atlength in the Council's Silence of the Lambs decision, in which the CBSCdefined “sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence” as material whichencourages or even glorifies the use of violence.

The Regional Council noted four rape scenes in the film. While any scenedepicting rape is necessarily awful, the members remarked that no scenelasted more than several seconds, none depicted the actual rape, and noneglamourized the rape. In fact, scenes following the rapes depicted theconsequences of the rape: the shock and despair of the victims as theyrelated the event to the police; the occasional refusal of police to accept thecharacterization of the event as a rape; victims' self-doubt as to blame for theoccurrence; the imputed role of previous victim behaviour as a contributingfactor; and so on.

In no way did these scenes encourage or glorify violence against women. While the film dealt with a form of crime that is defined by violence againstwomen, the film itself did not depict gratuitous, or unnecessary, violenceagainst women. In other words, the Council affirmed that a film about rapedoes not necessarily condone rape.

Indeed, several scenes encouraged women to protect themselves againstrape. The police officer investigating the rapes trained his wife and otherwomen to use whistles and other means to fend off potential rapists. Theofficer's wife, discussing the subject with her husband, affirmed that, “nomeans no”, and that no woman ever “asked” to be raped. An underlyingtheme of the film was this woman's personal experience of date rape and theimpact of its revelation years later on her relationship with her husband. Whilethe rapes constituted violence against women, rape's negative consequenceswere felt by all of the film's characters — female and male. Thus, in theRegional Council's view, the film did not glamourize violence against women.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that the CTVTelevision Network breached the requirement concerning the use ofviewer advisories in the industry's Violence Code. The Council foundthat the film, “Complex of Fear”, aired on July 13, 1994, should havebeen preceded by a viewer advisory indicating that the film containedscenes of violence intended for mature audiences. A similar advisoryshould have been provided during the first hour of the film.

This decision is a public document upon its release by the CanadianBroadcast Standards Council.