Content warning: sexual abuse, rape and domestic violence.
TV Presenter Stacey Dooley is perhaps the most engaging female investigative journalist working in Britain today. Bursting onto screens in 2009 as a participant in Blood, Sweat and T-shirts, a series that followed six fast-fashion consumers as they faced the realities of high-street manufacturing in an Indian sweatshop, Dooley has gone on to present over sixty documentaries for BBC Three. Covering issues from child exploitation to war, sex trafficking to drug crimes, her insightful and sensitive observations on international issues blend the hard-hitting with the accessible, bringing investigative journalism to a mass-market audience.
In her latest series of Stacey Dooley Investigates, she explores the decriminalisation of domestic violence in Russia, the involvement of schoolgirls in the Japanese sex industry and the unsolved murders of thousands of indigenous women in Canada. In one of the strongest episode of the series, ‘Face to Face with Isis’, she follows a 23 year-old former Isis sex slave Shireen as she returns to the site of her imprisonment and confronts a jailed Isis commander.
With themes of civil war, violence against women and human suffering, Dooley focuses on an individual story. She is very effective in boiling down these large and complex issues to a very human level. Focusing on the specific perspective of Shireen, the viewer is able to directly connect to her story, providing a gateway into an international humanitarian issue for audiences who may not otherwise engage so effectively.
But as with all of her work, what really shines through in the documentary is Dooley’s compassion. She is visibly frustrated when the Iraqi commander accompanying the group attempts to silence aspects of Shireen’s story to “protect her dignity” and comforts her as they return to the house where she was held captive.
By her critics, this compassion is often mistaken for naivety. Wide-eyed and nodding in concern, it is true that she often appears shocked by the severity of the situations she encounters. However, it is this disarming style that sets Dooley apart from her peers.
Her unassuming demeanour enables her to ask the hard-hitting questions that provide the most illuminating responses. The people she interviews – whether to condemn the brutality of their actions or to provide a platform to elevate their voices – appear candid and at ease in her presence. In her so-called innocence, she is able to make someone feel comfortable enough to share a traumatic personal experience or let their guard down to the extent that they illuminate their own hypocrisy, provoking the depth of response a more abrasive, confrontational interviewer may fail to achieve.
Of course, the thoughtfulness of Dooley’s questioning, as well as the array of difficult topics she has chosen to investigate over her illustrious and varied career, proves that she is anything but meek. By deliberately using this more quiet and unexpected form of strength to enhance her film-making, Dooley transforms her natural softness into her greatest asset.
In a climate where traditionally feminine traits such as these are so commonly criticised, it is refreshing to see that one of the most successful female documentary makers on television is using them to her advantage.
In the climax of the episode, Dooley sits in front of an imprisoned member of Isis who has confessed to the rape of over 250 women and children and declares “I am not scared of you.” It is with that remarkable resolve and bravery that Dooley conducts her investigations. Combining sensitivity and strength, she confronts issues head-on while embracing her personable nature to produce work with lasting impact.
Image: Jack Barnes via BBC Pictures