This piece is the first in a series on The Geek Initiative examining rape scenes in media. Please check back for more in this series. Trigger warning: This piece discusses rape and sexual assault.
Recent episodes of both the HBO series Game of Thrones and the Starz series Outlander have generated discussion on the topic of rape. This is a very difficult subject to write about, so I think it is first appropriate for me to give a little bit of my own background as well as the background of my fandom of both series.
Both of these television series are based on a series of books. I have barely opened the first chapter of “Game of Thrones” by George R.R. Martin, the first of the A Song of Ice and Fire series which the show is based on. I did not appreciate Martin’s writing style, and the book was difficult for me to get into. I decided it was more of a series that I wanted to watch rather than read. With Outlander, however, I was a book fan first. I began reading “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon, the first book in the Outlander series, during my freshman year of college. I made it through at least the first four books in the series before the series lost its appeal for me. I still consider the first book in the Outlander series to be one of the best books I have ever read.
I also feel it is important for me to say that I have never been raped. Every sexual encounter I have ever had has been 100% consensual. I do realize that I am one of the lucky ones. I believe the statistic is that 1 in every 3 women is sexually assaulted in her life time. That is a shockingly high rate of people who are violated by pure evil. I detest that these incidents occur, but I’m also not going to pretend that they do not.
Despite the fact that I have not read the A Song of Ice and Fire series, I am well aware that the rape of the character Sansa Stark never occurred in the books. I won’t get into spoiler details for those who have not read the books, but this issue really upset some book fans while watching the series. What I will tell these fans are that books and television are two different animals. Books leave things to your imagination, while television and movies bring the story to visual life. It can take days, weeks, or months to read a book. This has to be condensed for television and sometimes altered so that they can take their own license on the direction for the story. Mr. Martin is an executive producer, so I am sure he has a great deal of input into what changes are made on the show.
The rape of Jamie Fraser by Black Jack Randall in “Outlander” was very vividly described in the book as Claire tried to bring back Jamie’s will to live. Jamie felt guilty that he was aroused by the manipulation of his assailant. I thought that the show did a very good job of depicting this on television. This is an essential part to the story. Jack Randall clearly does something worse to Jamie than killing him, and this has a lasting impact on Jamie throughout the book series.
The question remains: have the cable networks gone too far by depicting rape in their series? For me personally, I think the answer is no. The show’s purposes are to tell a story. They do that within the time constraints they are provided. The rape is implied. The viewer does not see anything that could only be found in pornography.
There is some nudity, but during the actual rape scene, no genitalia is shown. The networks clearly label the shows with viewer advisory notices. These are not family shows. Most importantly, I don’t think there can be any question of sexism when one show depicts the rape of a young woman and another that of a young man.
Rape is a very unfortunate reality, both in real life and in stories. It provides character development for both the characters of Sansa Stark and Jamie Fraser. We view the pain that they had, and are able to feel the psychological trauma that comes to their characters because of it.
I think that it is a good thing that it is being shown on television. And most importantly I think that in the particular case of Jamie Fraser, it shows people that if it did happen to them, and they were aroused by their assailant, that it doesn’t mean it was consensual. It doesn’t mean that it was their fault. It means that some people can be truly evil and manipulative. It shows that healing can occur. That, I think is the most beautiful part to these stories. We see how broken and hurt these characters are as the result of rape, and we also watch them bounce back and show their strength in return.