8 TV Shows That Exploited Rape As A Dramatic Plot Device

Rape as a TV trope is more common than ever. But while some series make strides to tackle the subject in a profound and eye-opening manner, others opt for over-sexualized rape plots that are thrown in purely for shock value. Survivors’ struggles are often pushed aside to make room for a more fast-paced, "gritty" narrative, leaving viewers wondering whether the sexual assault was necessary to advance the characters’ story. Sometimes, the scenes in question even make fans feel so sick they abandon watching the show forever.

It’s important to note, however, that rape on television can be executed responsibly, and in a sensitive manner. Veronica Mars was always praised for the way in which it handled sexual assault. Jessica Jones is another example of a show where rape isn’t used purely for dramatic effect, but to navigate the emotional ramifications of sexual assault. Outlander, despite its extremely graphic scenes, also did a good job at illustrating Jamie’s struggles in the aftermath of his brutal attack. Orange is the New Black also tackled the subject tactfully, making Pennsatucky’s storyline feel as raw and realistic as possible.  

That’s exactly why TV shows that simply use sexual assault as a plot point can be frustrating to watch. From Game of Thrones to True Blood to Scandal, there have been several irresponsible portrayals of rape on TV in recent memory. These are all mainstream shows, not controversial indie movies one might seek out purely for the outrageous storylines. We’re not even talking about series like Law and Order: SVU, for instance, where the whole premise relies on the prevalence of sexual violence in day-to-day life.

Using gratuitous rape scenes to advance plot lines is not only lazy, but can be disappointing and disheartening to survivors. Instead of focusing on delivering graphic and shocking scenes, TV writers who want to address the issue should spend more time talking to experts and victims. When that doesn’t happen, the psychological consequences of sexual assault can easily become an afterthought. Here are a few poorly handled representations of sexual violence on TV that left a sour taste in viewers’ mouths.