Recently, there has been an outcry against rape as a plot point in stories, most recently the blog post petitioning against Reign’s use of it in a future episode. They cite how dangerous it can be to portray such a sensitive topic the wrong way and how it reinforces society’s negative portrayal of rape victims, and I think they’re right.
But what’s a writer to do when a story actually calls for it? Is there a place for books where rape is honestly, sensitively treated, or should it just be avoided altogether?
Personally, I’m hesitant to pronounce a taboo on any topic, any plot point, because writers have shown that all of life belongs on the page, in powerful, moving ways. No sooner do you pronounce a writing rule than someone proves you wrong. So I don’t think we can say “No rape as a plot point.” Yes, rape is a horrible thing. But so is murder. So is emotional abuse. So is assault, and robbery, and arson, and hurricanes and war and earthquakes and so many other things. If we try to write about safe places, we will have nothing to say, because books tell us how to survive, how to adapt ourselves to the awful world we live in.
So I think what we really need to tell writers is to not abuse rape. Treat it properly, and focus on the victim. Show her story, her struggle. Show how she overcomes the horror and moves on. Show her victory.
Don’t just use it as an excuse for revenge, anymore than you would murder. Cheap rape is just as wrong as cheap death. If someone is going to be raped, it needs to become the focus of the story, not used as fuel for another character’s arc or as a tidbit of backstory. Treat it like it matters, because to the character who is suffering, it does.
If we can show what the struggle is like, how deeply it affects those who go through it, than maybe we can change people’s perceptions. But if we avoid it altogether, how can anything change?
Copyright 2014 Andrea Lundgren Photo "Portrait" by Kyrre Gjerstad and "Shi Xuanru 4" by Jonathan Kos-Read; used according to Creative Commons License
6 thoughts on “Does Rape Ever Belong?”
This is a really interesting point! A show recently release in Australia called devil’s playground raised similar questions (the show is a fictionalized account, based on true events, of sexual assaults against children in the Catholic church). Ultimately I decided that while these topics can be difficult and upset to watch (or read), pretending things like this don’t happen is far more damaging than exposing and educating people on these real life issues in a controlled environment. Silence allows rape culture to fester and grow, while bringing it up may be the beginning of breaking down barriers. Great post: )
Thanks! That does sound like a tough topic to cover with tact. I think there is still a fine line between educating audiences so they can empathize and subjecting them to the horrors of the experience via a fictional medium, and I think the latter causes many to try to avoid such topics altogether. No one wants to experience these horrible things, and I don’t think that’s the goal in writing about them. It is the aftermath, really, that needs to be shared.
I definitely agree. To effectively capture the experience requires an amount of detail that can be traumatizing. Like you said, perhaps the focus should be more on the aftermath and the long suffering of the victim, rather than trying to write about the act itself. I certainly wouldn’t know where to begin trying to write about paedophilia in the church.
A hard topic. If you asked a rape victim? There would response. No sensitive act in rape. In the early sixties. Rape was in many movies. Was cold and heartless. Today rape is different. Drugs, being in the wrong place and sex consider easy and wanted by everyone. I believe simple solution. Teach safety to woman and men to respect woman.
That would be a simple solution indeed, and the best, if we could achieve it. My concern is also for those who don’t experience it but condemn it; those who judge the people who were involved, and decide whose fault it was, and I think they could better understand the complicated emotions and issues involved by including it in fiction, rather than banning it entirely.
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I agree. I have three daughters and six sisters.