Should You Include a Rape Scene in Your Story? — On Game of Thrones, Mad Max, and Sexual Assault

Trigger Warning: Discussions of rape and sexual assault.

In 2015, Tumblr user Tafkar put together an analysis of the number of rapes in Game of Thrones (the TV show) and A Song of Ice and Fire (the book series by George R.R. Martin), to that date. This is what she found:

Rape acts in Game of Thrones, the TV series: 50
Rape victims in Game of Thrones, the TV series: 29

Rape acts in A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series: 214
Rape victims in A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series: 117

In a follow-up post titled “A Song of Ice and Fire has a rape problem,” she includes a detailed list of every character who experiences rape and a follow-up discussion on why the rapes are problematic in the book series.

She notes that the rapes are all described from the rapists’ perspective, not the victims’, and that the only two women who try to find justice for themselves, Mirri Maz Duur and Cersei Lannister, are painted as villains.

The Problem with Rape Scenes

The question of whether to include rape or not in a work is tricky for some. They say that they include it because it’s historic or realistic (and isn’t that a depressing thought), or that it raises important discussions. But so many women, myself included, are tired of seeing their beloved female characters abused again and again and again. Rape is most often used to benefit a male character’s story, either to show how brutal he is, or to provide a catalyst for his revenge quest. In these situations, rape isn’t about the female characters at all, but uses them as a prop.

If it’s used in a female character’s story, it’s the default tragic backstory, except that it doesn’t affect any other factors of her life; these stories often ignore the trauma that real survivors of rape experience. Or, the rape is treated as worse than death, which perpetuates the unhealthy idea that losing one’s sexual purity is the worst thing that could possibly happen.

Why are these depictions of rape problematic? Tafkar sums it up well:

“The stories of rapists are important to George R. R. Martin. Those are the stories he tells. Our point of view characters are the rapists, not the victims. Victims of rape are not important enough in George R. R. Martin’s eyes to deserve to have their story told, not unless they’ve committed heinous villainous acts. If victims of rape aren’t important enough to be point of view characters, if women who take vengeance for their rapes into their own hands are villains, then what is a reader who has been raped supposed to feel about her own situation, her own search for justice?”

How, then, do we portray rape in fiction? While I would honestly prefer that we leave it out altogether, there is one fictional portrayal I appreciate precisely because it puts control in the hands of the survivors.

How Mad Max: Fury Road Gets it Right

Mad Max: Fury Road depicts one woman’s attempt to save five others from a life of continued rape. In the movie, Imperator Furiosa smuggles Immortan Joe’s five wives away from The Citadel by taking them in her War Rig across the desert.

The Five Wives are beautiful young women—The Splendid Angharad, The Dag, Toast the Knowing, Cheedo the Fragile, and Capable—who Immortan Joe keeps locked away in a biodome. He routinely rapes them so that they’ll become pregnant and give him heirs. However, we don’t actually see any of the rapes take place, and Immortan Joe barely touches them on screen. Instead, the movie shows the effects of rape in how the Five Wives take control of their situation, such as the following four scenes:

  1. When Immortan Joe realizes what Furisoa is doing, he runs to the biodome to check on the Wives, where he finds the words “Our babies will not be warlords” written on the floor. He also finds their teacher, Miss Giddy, who points a gun at him while she yells, “You cannot own a human being. Sooner or later someone pushes back.” Behind her, the words “We are not things” are written on the wall, above their beds.
  2. When Max encounters the Wives for the first time, he finds them washing and ridding themselves of their chastity belts—a tangible symbol of their sexual slavery—with bolt cutters. Even when they get back on the War Rig as Immortan Joe comes after them, one of the Wives takes an extra second to kick one of the chastity belts.
  3. During the chase, Angharad shields Furiosa with her pregnant body when Immortan Joe points a gun at her, because she knows he’ll never endanger his “property.”
  4. When Immortan Joe is killed towards the end of the movie, Toast spits on his body.

Throughout the movie, the Wives continually show their disinclination to be sex slaves any longer through small, but significant, actions. They fight back against Immortan Joe’s claim to their bodies and his belief that they are his property. We don’t need to see the rapes; we can already imagine how horrible they must have been because of how desperate and angry the Wives are.

What to Consider First

If it seems like the narrative of your story is heading in that direction, please consider these questions before you write a rape or sexual assault scene.

1. What is the reason for the scene?

If the only purpose is shock value or to be “realistic,” it’s unnecessary. If, however, you have something to say about the reasons and effects of rape and sexual assault, you may have a legitimate reason to include it.

2. Which character does the rape scene serve?

If it’s a male character, don’t write it. If it’s a female character, ask yourself what purpose it serves her specifically. If, for example, you need something to round out a tragic backstory, is there something else that can work just as well (like a kidnapping, or the death of a loved one)?

3. Will you explore how the rape affects your character in all factors of her life?

So many stories include rape in a character’s backstory, but leave it there. Consider how it can add to your character’s development, and take the opportunity to explore the trauma in a real and helpful way.

4. Can the rape/assault scene happen “off-screen”?

I don’t want to read a graphic rape scene, and I doubt many women do either, especially those who are survivors themselves. Please consider those readers who have painful past experiences.

If there is a reason why the rape has to happen “on screen,” (such as, something transformative happens during, or it’s connected to an important plot point later), don’t write it like a sex scene. Rape isn’t sexy. Think about what your language focuses on: are you writing about the body parts, or are you delving into the psychological effects of it?

____

There are other examples of rape being used effectively in fiction, and they can serve as an important purpose in a character’s journey. But I long for the day when rape is no longer used to prop up male characters or debase female characters. I’m hopeful that, as more writers consider its purpose and think about it carefully before including it, we’ll see it used for the right reasons.

Join our Discord Community

Our Discord community is a place for fans of science fiction and fantasy to hang out together. If you are a reader, join for discussions about your favourite books, reviews by awesome bloggers, and a book club. If you are a writer, join for a community of creative minds who are getting words down onto the page. We discuss worldbuilding, chat about goals, read books on craft together, and cheer each other on!

Scroll to Top