Rape as a Plot Point

While critiquing a manuscript, I told the writer that I felt uneasy about the multiple rapes that occur in his story (though they all occur “off camera”). I told him that if he’s going to include rape in his novel, he should probably elaborate a bit on the social and psychological ramifications rather than just use rape to drive the plot forward. Not long after that discussion, that same writer told me I probably wouldn’t like a certain movie simply because there’s a rape scene (he totally ignored the fact that my advice indicated that there may be exceptions to having rape in a narrative). Naturally, I then started Googling the issue and decided to write this post to tell that writer (and others) to be careful when writing about rape in fiction (it’s been said so many times by so many people, you’d think it’d be a given, but evidently it’s not).

Coincidentally, there’s an ongoing pseudo-movement of journalists, writers and other folks responding to the trend of using rape as plot in television, primarily in reaction to Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, Scandal, and House of Cards (disclaimer: of these series, I’ve seen only season one of House of Cards). These opinions overlap greatly and I think they reflect and reinforce my prior viewpoint on rape as a plot point.

Lazy Plot Device

Rape is too often a lazy plot device and it’s getting to be a cliche.

In her article, “Hey TV: Stop Raping Women,” Karen Valby notes that “it seems whenever a female character needs a juicy arc or humanizing touch, writers fall back on the easy, awful crime of rape,” despite the fact that “there are countless plot-generating life obstacles that don’t involve sexual assault.” Also see “Can We Stop Using Rape as a Plot Device” by Clementine Ford (noting “[s]exual violence has become the go-to plot device for writers looking to give their female characters substance despite having no apparent understanding or interest in the rounder complexities of women as equal participants”); and “‘Downton Abbey’ And the Problem of Rape as a Plot Point” by Lauren Duca (finding that “the [rape] scene [in Downton Abbey] functioned as an unsympathetically lazy plot point”). Continue reading