Rape Isn’t a Plot Point

So I watched part of Into the Forest tonight. I say part, because the second the creepy dude walked out of the forest and tried to rape one of the protagonists, I turned it off.

Rape isn’t a plot point.

Why was it in this movie at all? Sure, it’s an apocalyptic movie. That means bad things happen, right? And rape is bad, right? So of COURSE rape has to happen. Right?

Wrong.

Rape is often used in novels, shows, and movies, as a way to make sure we know someone is BAD. It’s used to motivate a main character. It’s used to make an awful situation scarier. It’s rarely written into a novel in order to explore the consequences of sexual violence, to show its impact on the victim, to shine a light on all the crap society lays on the person who dared get raped.

Into the Forest seemed to be an interesting post-apocalypse story about two women who have to rely on each other to survive a global blackout that leaves them without power and stranded in the forest. It could have been about the power of family, the importance of being with people who love you, the way that trials and tribulations bring people together.

And then Stan, the creepy guy, strolls out of the woods.

Do you know how awful it is to watch a movie or read a book and always, in the back of your mind, worry that your favorite character might be sexually assaulted? Do you know how exhausting it is to fear for the female characters’ safety constantly? Even when it’s not a horror flick, there’s always the chance the writer is going to write in a sexual assault scene.

Think of Game of Thrones. Think of Sansa. There was no other way they could think of to show us that Ramsay Bolton was BAD? They hadn’t already established that with his other heinous acts? We couldn’t have seen Sansa grow stronger through other tribulations? Really?

What does it say about our society, that the de facto terrible thing we think of to visit on women is rape? What does it say about our perception of women? And men? Why are we constantly telling the same stories over and over again and then complaining because nothing ever changes?

I’m not saying there should never be sexual violence in a movie or show or book. But it happens often enough that I cringe whenever I suspect it might creep into the story. There are very few stories I’ve read or shows I’ve watched that treat the assault as anything more than a thing that drives the characters forward. It’s rare when it doesn’t feel gratuitous–a violent titillation that serves to gratify sick voyeurs. Why else would Stan come creeping out of the forest? Why else would we see two ominous men standing by a car on the side of the road? What were they doing there? Who did they have in the car? We can guess, can’t we? The sexual violence was implied, just as it was when the motorcyclists surround the car with Dad and the two girls in it. “Well, look what we got here,” one creep mutters.

Sexual violence isn’t about sex. It’s not sexy–but you wouldn’t know it by the portrayal of the violence in our entertainment. In reality, sexual violence is about power and control. It’s awful and devastating and affects victims for the rest of their lives.

For the love of all that’s unholy, don’t include sexual violence in your stories or your movies if all you want to do is showcase how BAD your bad guy is. Don’t make it sexy. Don’t downplay its affects. Because if you do, I won’t read it. I won’t watch it. And I will find something better to spend my time on.

Stupid movie.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. I had never considered this. Thank you

    1. You’re welcome. 🙂

  2. Hi Jen! I actually incorporated rape into my Forever in Darkness novel, but it was offstage AND the focus was on the impact it had on the victim, and the aftermath that followed, NOT on the rape scene itself. I portrayed it and the criminals as the ugly violent beasts they are. There was much, much more to the plot,but I was concerned that the rape element might incur a bad review. Having been a victim of sexual assault, I did my best to focus on the victim’s trauma and their recovery, and of course justice. The book received 5 Stars from InD’Tale and on Amazon and is a RONE finalist, so I’m very relieved that I did the scenes right. I don’t typically write that element into my books, but this book was written during a very dark time in my life, and it all just kinda unfolded before my eyes.

    1. It sounds like you treated the rape as an integral part of your character’s story, rather than a ‘shock and awe’ part of the story. It sounds like your story resonated with your readers too, which is important. Thank you for sharing this, I appreciate it!

  3. I left a comment but I don’t think it went through.

    1. I think it got caught in the filters, but it’s showing up now! 🙂

  4. I hear what you’re saying but I think your characterization of rape as about power and control–which is absolutely true–is really the point. Rape is a way of taking power over a strong female (though not necessarily female) character. Rape or attempted rape is the defacto result, the “reward,” when someone unscrupulous gets control over someone else.

    i hate–HATE–when rape is excused away for a protagonist. When it’s dismissed in general or brushed off. When it’s the de facto way it is in fantasy worlds where women are still considered property.

    But, I won’t say I don’t have rape in my books, though it is rarely successful (as in attempted but foiled), rapists generally don’t survive, and I make it clear that, in every case, it’s about power, not romance. And I include it BECAUSE I want to change the perceptions, the victim-blaming, the excuses for romance-induced rapes.

    Not that I can’t agree with your points. I just address it a different way.

    1. I hear you. It’s a sticky subject and I like when people talk about it–I just hate it when it’s used as motivation to drive a female character forward. There are so many other ways to motivate them, it bothers me when rape is the go-to motivator. Talking about it in a positive way is super important!

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