I remember vividly the first rape scene I saw on television. I was 9 years old, home alone surfing channels when I stumbled upon the incredibly disturbing, sexually violent scene. My hand was frozen on the remote, fearful of and in shock of the images on the screen. I could not understand why someone would do that to another person, or what that pain and violation must feel like. It was a kind of violence unknown to me, at the time. I remember being unable to sleep that night.
This past Monday, I was catching up on the current season of Game of Thrones. I’ve learned to expect plenty of fighting and the occasional beheading, so I try not to get too attached to characters. A more disturbing theme I’ve begun to notice throughout the show however, is the prevalence of rape.
This season alone has included multiple scenes of attempted or completed rape. Episode 6 “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” featured a highly disturbing scene in which Sansa Stark was raped by her new husband Ramsey. The scene passed the point of suggestive and left little to the imagination, showing Sansa’s clothes being torn off, panning out the final shot of the episode with the sounds of her struggle in the background as a servant looked on and watched. If that didn’t fill in the gaps enough for you, the following episode showed Sansa again covered in bruises and cuts.
Years later, I am reminded of the overwhelming feelings I felt as a 9 year old watching that scene. Only now, I watch with a personal understanding of what that violence looks and feels like. Even with the volume on mute, the scene left me distraught and disturbed. Once again I found myself unable to sleep, my mind reeling over emotions and memories.
Sexual violence is not new to Game of Thrones, however. Rape is normalized on the show, woven into the plotline as a tactic of war, a right of husbands and brothers, and demonstration of domination and ownership. Someone actually quantified sexual violence on the show, and totaled 50 instances of rape and 29 victims of sexual violence to date. Something about this particular incident really struck a chord with me.
Absent from the show are details of the survivor’s recovery, or legal or moral ramifications for the perpetrators or the victims. Instances of brutal violence are witnessed and seemingly forgotten about. Yet, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is a reality for survivors of rape, with the chances stacked high at 50-90% (Population Reports: Ending Violence Against Women, 2000.)
The instances of sexual violence featured on the show are not explored in detail, integrated into character development, or examined more closely later, but rather exist as standalone events. Not only are these violent images reinforcing concepts of sexual objectification, domination and subversion, but they are triggering for survivors. Detailed and explicit sexually violent images—as well as sounds, sights, smells, stories, visuals– can remind a survivor of their assault and may elicit symptoms of PTSD. A more sensitive depiction of sexual violence is needed, and not just in Game of Thrones. Audiences must demand more from the media, to be thoughtful about the way sexual violence is used as entertainment and what effects it may have on real life survivors.
Megan Staudenraus is a Youth Mental Health First Aid Liaison at Mental Health First Aid Colorado. Be sure to read (or reread) her previous post here for more information on this important topic.