I’ve heard it said that if one wants to know how they feel about a topic, they need to write about it until they figure it out. As a writer (and a long-time journal-writer), I find that to be true. A few months ago I stopped watching Downton Abbey because of a rape story line. A few weeks ago the geeky online community protested the Cersei/Jaime rape scene in Game of Thrones. I’m not a big fan of using rape as a narrative device in any medium. Yes, we writers have to do horrible things to our characters. We push them around and take them away from what they want for the sake of character arcs and plot development. Character tension add depth to any story, and rape certainly qualifies. So why do I have such a problem with it? Something in the back of my mind kept nudging me, so I wrote about it. This is what I discovered:
I don’t like it because it reduces characters to nothing but their sexuality. Using rape in the narrative says “denigrate a person’s sexuality and you’ve destroyed them.” I’m not trying to downplay the horror that is rape, but in reality, there are dozens–no, hundreds–of ways to destroy a character. Ruin their reputation, steal all their money, kill their spouse, rip off their arms, torture them until they beg to die. If you know your characters well enough, you know the one thing that will bring them to their metaphoric knees. When you reach into your bag of tricks, automatically pulling out “character X gets raped by character Y” is lazy writing at best and disrespectful to the human condition at worst.
Again, I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of sexual assault and rape; they have had a hand in destroying plenty of lives. I just have an issue with storytellers reaching for it as a narrative device again and again and again.