Top Showrunners Banning Rape As TV Show Plot Devices

In many ways, Games of Thrones has changed the landscape of television, from their budgets, concepts, and storytelling structures. Unfortunately, the show also inadvertently helped normalize rape as plot devices on TV shows. When speaking to TV critic Maureen Ryan for Variety, some of TV's top showrunners spoke out about the subject, saying they are actively fighting against the trend of sexual assault.

Jeremy Slater, showrunner of the hit The Exorcist, says reading a spec script with rape in it when it doesn't have anything to do with the story will get an automatic pass from him. Slater describes, "One of my hard-and-fast rules when reading spec scripts was, the second that there was a rape that was used for shock value and that didn’t have any sort of narrative purpose, I threw the script aside. And I was shocked by the number that had that." And the prevalence of sexual assault is staggering, with Slater citing, "I would say out of those 200 scripts, there were probably 30 or 40 of them that opened with a rape or had a pretty savage rape at some point.”

Bryan Fuller, current showrunner on American Gods and former showrunner of Hannibal, refused to portray any type of sexual violence in the latter, despite all the other types of violence depicted. Fuller's reasonings behind the edict was, “I personally think that it stains a story, in a way, in that it prevents you from being able to celebrate different aspects of sexuality." Full elaborates, "America as a country has a very f**ked-up attitude regarding sex and sexuality, so there is something [troubling] about the punishing of characters for their sex and sexuality.”

One reasoning for the frequency of sexual violence, coming from Lost Girls and Killjoys showrunner Michelle Lovretta, is it accelerates what makes a show compelling, combining drama, emotion, and sexuality. Lovretta explains, “It’s a fast-hitting combo of a lot of powerful inputs — titillation, taboo, character conflict, deep betrayal.”

A female writer who didn't want to be identified theorizes the surge in sexual violence comes from the gender disparity in the writer's room, revealing, "For male showrunners, sexual assault is always the go-to when looking for ‘traumatic backstory’ for a female character. You can be sure it will be brought up immediately, like it’s the obvious place to go when fleshing out a female character.”

As long as there is sexual violence in the world, sexual violence will be depicted in movies, TV shows, and video games with varying levels of narrative dependency. The conversations around when and how to depict rape will continue indefinitely, but at least those conversations are happening more frequently and top showrunners are taking steps in the right direction.