The use of rape as a plot device in film, video games and literature is ‘shifting’ sympathy from the victim to the perpetrator, an academic warned yesterday.
Joanna Bourke, author of Rape: A History, said there was a shift in attitudes from why an attacker is committing an offence to the impact on a rapist. “There’s a real sense that perpetrators are the victims,” she told an audience at the Women of the World festival in London yesterday. “Somehow the guilt [of rapists] makes it okay – but the actual victim is not there in these narratives,” she added.
She explained that while films in the 1970s demonised rapist characters for their race or social class, nowadays fictional rapists have ‘become just like every other man’, provoking empathy from audiences.
The use of a rape as a plot device also drew criticism from author Stephanie Saulter who argued that it was a ‘lazy shorthand for establishing character’. She explained: “Writers don’t want to show the journey of why someone is damaged, so they’ll insert a rape device.”
Saulter also cited that fiction featuring women often put a perceived expectation onto the victim, depending on the outcome of the narrative. She said: “The excuse is that it’s okay [to use a rape plot device] as long as the victim comes out of it okay is increasingly dangerous.” She explained that rape in fiction often allows a woman to ‘become the person she couldn’t be beforehand.