So I have seen this phenomenon countless times in literature and film, and it is really about time we put a stop to it. Rape and sexual assault is real, affecting approximately 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men in the United States alone. Jokes about rape and sexual assault are never funny, and survivors’ stories should never being used for comedic effect.
There are a lot of dramas, however, that use rape as a plot device or shock factor in their story lines. One show that immediately comes to mind for me is Game of Thrones. With how popular Game of Thrones is, it has become a little hard to state any criticism of it without facing huge backlash. Game of Thrones, both the TV show and the book series, have included often graphic depictions of sexual assault and rape in their story lines. While there are a lot of human atrocities committed within the pages of these novels, the sexual assault stands out to me the most. Largely in part because they seem designed to solely demoralize the otherwise strong female characters or to really sell how evil a certain male character is. The writers of Game of Thrones use rape as if it were a speed bump on a character’s journey, with practically every main female character being sexually assaulted and humiliated at some point in the novels or scripts.
While being liberal with the use of rape, the story rarely discusses the lasting traumatic impact of rape on the survivor. After the assault happens, it is pretty much dropped soon after, affecting at most a survivor’s interactions with their rapist only. The only way I think it can ever be appropriate to depict rape in a novel or show is if it states some truth about the struggles victims and survivors go through and honors their journeys to recovery. Game of Thrones, along with many other novels of its genre and beyond, profit off of sensationalizing rape, while doing absolutely nothing to show the true impact of something as horrific and severe as sexual assault.
On top of that, the Game of Thrones TV show includes the rape of Sansa Stark, which did not even take place in the novels for which it is based off of. I don’t know how the story line benefits from adding in this event, other than for added shock value. Obviously someone is gaining enjoyment from watching or choreographing these scenes, and I honestly cannot stand behind that.
Sexual assault and rape, as they are part of life, are going to be part of our literature. It is inevitable, and it can be done in a way that gives a voice to victims and honors their experiences. That does not, however, make it okay for people to take these stories that are not theirs to tell and warp them into something transient and fetishized. There are so many better ways to prove the strength and endurance of a character than to treat rape like a battle fought and won.
I'm a bi female undergraduate student majoring in Psychology, with minors in Women and Gender Studies and African American Studies. I am passionate about issues of domestic violence and sexual assault, and intend to get my masters in social work in order to serve those populations.