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Writing about assault is never easy: there is a fine line between going overboard with all the gory details and accidentally undervaluing the profound impact violence has on physical, emotional and mental well-being of the victim. While I don’t think that all writing should aim to be political and have an agenda, however, I do think that it is important to consider the message you are sending to your readers, especially when it comes to difficult subjects such as sexual assault. Unfortunately, rape culture is very real, and it is my firm belief that we should strive to change that in any way we can. At the very least, being aware of certain prejudices when tackling difficult issues in your writing will not only make your stories more true to life, but it will also allow you to pay respect to the victims.
- Use rape as a minor setback for the character
Rape has often been used as a plot device to create an “inconvenience”, especially for the female characters. This is not only inaccurate, but also an insulting way to approach the subject. In reality, rape victims can take months, or years to recover from the experience. This requires physical, mental and emotional healing to take place. General rule of thumb: if the incident is traumatic for real life victims, it should also be traumatic for your characters.
- Justify rape to punish a “bad” wo/man.
Nobody deserves to be raped. If you use rape as a punishment for someone’s misconduct, you are perpetuating rape culture.
- Use rape to make someone a martyr
The other extreme would be to write a rape scene in order to make someone a martyr, an angelic, idealized heroine (or a hero) whose only purpose is to suffer and show that justice is not served equally. Leave black-and-white characters to the Grimm brothers, and opt for creating more fleshed out characters.
- Make the rapist a movie villain
Rapists are not scary strangers lurking in a dark alley. More often, they are people the victim already knew, maybe even liked/respected them. It is your duty to flesh out both the victim and the perpetrator.
- Victim blame
Do not try to find a rational reason for rape, because there is none. The victim is neither an angelic being nor the lust driven female who provoked the attacker with her sexuality. There is only one reason why rape happens: because of the rapist.
- Resort to cliches
It seems to be more socially acceptable to write about the rape of a beautiful, young woman. However, the reality does not necessarily coincide. Men and older women can also be rape survivors. LGBT community is also at risk of being assaulted, even more so than the cis, hetero-normative people.
- Use excessive drama
When describing assault, allow rawness, brutality and vulnerability, but avoid excessive melodrama. Do not allow your characters to be characterized purely by the violence they have undergone. It would be unfair.
- Underestimate the power of healing
Healing is difficult, but it’s not impossible. While rape undoubtedly is extremely traumatizing, people can, and do get better. Show the glory of your heroine’s recovery, instead of making her commit suicide as a result of being unable to cope with the aftermath of violence. Imagine if you were a victim yourself: wouldn’t reading about someone else’s recovery encourage you more than reading about them ending up committing suicide?
- Write about rape as a wish fulfillment
Just don’t. Rape scenes are not literary tools for arousal. Rape is not sexy: it is a horrible, dehumanizing, violent crime. Bear that in mind.
Write about rape without thorough research
If you have considered all of the above and are certain that the rape scene is absolutely essential to your story for some reason, than you really should educate yourself and look into some real life experiences of the victims. You might be the most politically correct writer there is, but only reading up on actual assault stories can give you a clearer picture of what the short and long term consequences of rape are, and this will allow you to address the issue with both respect and authenticity.