Jessica Jones vs. Sansa Stark: Rape Culture in Entertainment, and Why We Should Talk About It

Trigger warning: we are going to talk about rape. Or rather, I am. I'm going to muse about it, think about it. I'm going to cringe, rage, and perhaps wonder. If this is a problem for you, please don't read further, because if rape is your trigger, I can only imagine why, and my heart goes out to you. I don't want to cause you any pain.

But I swear...I'm a little confused, and I want to talk about it.

So please. If you can have a conversation about rape and its portrayal in literature and movies, read on.

But if you've been attacked or sexually assaulted, I won't be offended if you click away.

Disclaimer: I have never been raped. I have never been assaulted or attacked in any way. The only man (boy, really, in maturity at least) who ever threatened me with physical violence took me at my word when I said if he ever came near me again, the police would be waiting.

I know how lucky this makes me, in a world in which assault and rape (and the subsequent victim-blaming) have become much more the norm than the exception.

Last spring, the internet exploded with outrage over the rape of Sansa Stark on Game of Thrones. "It's too much!" said the internet (people I know, respect, admire). "Gratuitous rape has to stop! Rape should never be used to drive plot! Rape should never be graphic! We will no longer watch Game of Thrones!"

At the time, this baffled me. I mean, it wasn't that I didn't understand how disturbing the scene was, in which Sansa walks, head held high, to her "wedding bed" with the sadistic Ramsay Bolton. The camera cuts away from the act itself, but we hear it. We hear her cries of pain, of dismay.

"Rape shouldn't be used as a plot device," said the internet last spring. "Rape shouldn't be used as a catalyst."

We hear him rape her. 

Later, we see her bruises.

But we never see the actual attack.

Still. "It's too much," they said, those internet writers who I admire. "Too graphic. Too painful. We will no longer watch Game of Thrones."

This bothered me. It really did. Because...why then? Why that scene which, compared to much of the Game of Thrones sexual activity, was handled with a reasonable amount of grace. Why not back in Season 3, when Joffrey shot crossbow bolts into naked prostitutes hanging from his bedpost? Why was that scene, displaying so much cold-blooded brutality, not the straw that broke the camels' backs of Game of Thrones supporters?

Was it because we can handle brutality toward "bad" women like prostitutes or even, say, the vicious, scheming Cersei Lannister? There was uproar when Jaime raped Cersei, yes, but that uproar was based more in semantics than the act itself. Was it rape? (It was.) Was it consensual? (It wasn't.) We weren't bothered as much at seeing Cersei raped, so long as it was properly labeled.

But Cersei is a character whose morals we question from day one of the series (both on film and on paper). Cersei, along with her brother the Kingslayer, is a serial participant in an incestuous relationship. She and her brother have illegitimate children together. Those of us women with brothers cringe whenever we see them together. The bile rises along the backs of our throats. So we didn't cry over her rape.

No. we cried over Sansa's.

Was it Sansa's innocence then, her virginity, that pushed us over the edge?

I'd argue here, though, that while Sansa is a virgin, she's hardly innocent. Raised to be a queen, she has a thirst for power, and an ability to survive beyond most of the rest of her family. She's been known to plot with the Imp. She's been known to scheme with Margaery Tyrell. She's not as innocent as her porcelain skin and lovely red hair might make you think.

But that gets dangerously close to victim-blaming. 

Of course the rape of Sansa Stark was brutal. Of course it was upsetting. 

That said, I continue to watch Game of Thrones, despite what the internet has told me to do.

"Rape shouldn't be used as a plot device," said the internet last spring. "Rape shouldn't be used as a catalyst."

Until....along came Jessica Jones, Marvel's newest superhero drama on Netflix. It's the first of its kind in that it showcases a super-strong, bad-ass female character who isn't sexy in any traditional way. She doesn't use her femininity to gain power (like Cersei or Sansa or Margaery). She doesn't wear dresses or lipstick or high heels. She's awesome, the internet loves her, and so do I.

Here's what gets me, though.

The catalyst of her story?

It's rape.

She's been held captive by the mind-controlling Kilgrave (Oh, 10th Doctor, what have they done to you??). She's been mind-fucked by him...he's invaded her thoughts, controlled her actions, her words. He's forced her to kill. He's forced her to maim.

Oh. And he's physically raped her.

Over and over and over again.

I can think of nothing worse. Nothing more disturbing.

So where's the outrage of last spring? Where's the furor? Why aren't we pissed off about this rape, this mindfuck and body-fuck? Why was this rape allowed to be the catalyst that created Jessica Jones and her quest to destroy Kilgrave?

Was it because we don't see it? We don't hear it? Those rapes occurred off-camera completely, in a time long before we actually meet Jessica. 

Was it because the sex we do see in Jessica Jones is clearly consensual? Does that give the show a pass to use rape in a way no show has dared use it before? 

Is that why our rage-o-meter is so comparatively silent? And we're free to enjoy the rest of the show?

Game of Thrones is about so much more than rape. 

It's about epic struggles for power. Good versus evil. Family. Love. Lust. Hate. Betrayal. 

Rape plays but a small role in the show, and yet, it infuriates us.

Jessica Jones is also about so much more than rape.

It's about revenge. Love. Lust. Family. Friends. Good versus evil. Struggles for power.

But rape is the catalyst to the show's arc, and we cannot deny that our fury is silenced here. 

So why? Why the disparity in our collective reactions? 

I'm honestly curious. My thoughts are that it does have something to do with Jessica's inherent and obvious bad-ass-ness, versus Sansa's sweet demeanor. We don't love to see beautiful things broken, but we can handle seeing something strong grow...stronger, whatever the cause. 

Or can it be that rape as a device in the entertainment media isn't inherently bad? Maybe? It can spark discussion of rape culture, that's for sure, the necessity of which cannot be denied. We cannot stop rape culture without discussing it. Without being willing to say things that we'd rather not say - like that rape isn't always boy-attacking-girl, that sometimes it's boy-attacking-boy, or girl-attacking-girl. And that in any guise, it's vile and terrible, but also pervasive. Ours is a world full of sexual assaults, just like the world of Game of Thrones and Jessica Jones. 

We need to talk about these problems in order to solve them. We cannot close our eyes and hope that rapists stop raping. We cannot turn away and pretend it doesn't exist. 

Our outrage is good. It's needed.

But our lack of outrage also needs to be investigated. We need to know why we were so upset last spring, but aren't devastated this winter. 

What does this say about us?

I'd love to hear what you think. Feel free to leave a comment. Keep it tasteful, please. Be adults. Be kind. And be curious. I'm curious. What does this say about us?

Leah Rhyne

Column by Leah Rhyne

Leah Rhyne is a Jersey girl who's lived in the South so long she's lost her accent...but never her attitude. After spending most of her childhood watching movies like Star Wars, Aliens, and A Nightmare On Elm Street, and reading books like Stephen King's The Shining or It, Leah now writes horror and science-fiction. She lives with her husband, daughter, and a small menagerie of pets.

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pentakillgnar's picture
pentakillgnar from Pennsylvania is reading Novel length fan fiction about the Star Wars prequels January 12, 2016 - 3:41pm

Jessica Jones handled it tastefully and the show has resonated with many survivors. It's a story about recovering from abuse.

Game of Thrones uses rape for shock value and torturing the characters.

Leela Cosgrove's picture
Leela Cosgrove January 12, 2016 - 4:27pm

^^^ Exactly this. 

Funnily enough, I was having this conversation with my husband last night after watching the first few episodes of Jessica Jones. 

Game of Thrones goes out of its way to be graphic. The scene a couple of seasons ago where the guys break into Craster's keep and rape the women - and the scene went on for 10 minutes with screams of pain audible the entire time. It's completely unnecessary.

Shows like Jessica Jones (another one that did it well was the first season of True Detective - where horrible things were obviously done to children, but rather than show us, they show us the reaction of the guys watching the video) - handle the same issues tastefully, obviously not just trying to shock, but dealing with serious issues that need to be discussed in a way that's not about ratings. 

leah_beth's picture
leah_beth from New Jersey - now in Charleston, SC is reading five different books at once. January 12, 2016 - 4:59pm

So, I think you both have excellent points, particularly about the brutality of GoT, which is why I ask the question: why did Sansa's scene spark the outrage? I have no issue with people who stopped watching at any point due to violence, particularly against women, but the furor over that particular scene (which was brief and didn't *show* anything) is what baffles me.

And I hadn't thought about Jessica Jones as a way to inspire survivors. It honestly hadn't occurred to me, so I'm glad you said that.I'm trying to NOT give spoilers...but JJ gets rather brutal itself, later on in the season. Both JJ and Daredevil (the other Marvel Netflix show) have particularly difficult torture scenes. Jessica doesn't exactly heal....she goes after revenge. But maybe that's part of healing? I honestly don't know, which is, I think, why I'm asking questions! 

Regardless, thank you both for your perspective! I'm glad we're talking about it!

Leela Cosgrove's picture
Leela Cosgrove January 12, 2016 - 6:25pm

Yeah, I see what you're saying. I think there had been a LOT of conversation around rape in GoT before that - but Sansa was the last straw for a lot of people, I think - and yes, that's no doubt a whole "pretty, unassuming, white girl who has done nothing wrong gets raped and NOW we've had enough!" thing. But there was a huge outcry over Jamie raping Cersei. And a lot of people had issues with the Craster scene, as well. 

I'm only up to the third or fourth episode of Jessica Jones, so I can't comment beyond that - but from what I've seen so far, it's handled in a different way. 

I don't think we should whitewash rape from fiction - it's an important topic that needs to be discussed. 

But it's also pretty obvious when it's being used for shock value and ratings (GoT) versus it being a part of the story that's handled well (JJ, True Detective - and of course, Buffy did a bunch of this typically handled in a delicate Joss-way).

I think the number one determiner of whether it's being used as plot device versus actually discussed is the impact it has on the character.

So often, the character gets raped in one scene and then in the next episode it's like nothing ever happened. 

The minimisation of the ongoing impact makes me want to punch the writers.

I think that's why a lot of people really like Jessica Jones - because she's a survivor who is dealing with the real psychological fall out of that kind of behaviour. 

Keyote MacLean's picture
Keyote MacLean January 12, 2016 - 7:44pm

Or maybe, it had to do with the Cult Following and it's easier to gnash your teeth about it on the internet for likes, and followers, and etc. than it is to actively do anything in reality for anyone, living, and real? Because: Honestly, if people were so hellbent on the effect it had on a fictional character, and their impetus tied that "To reality" (Which is funny in a sick and twisted way, in and of itself), you'd figure they would have started a campaign, or a donation fund, or done something, for real life victims. Nope: here we are, what, a year later? Still the same pointless comments, still the same pointless spin. In the end: Color me not impressed with the internet's reaction. It was just something else that was popular, that people turned their internal emotions toward, that they'll never do ANYTHING with in reality, all to shout into the void and slap one another on the back over how "offended" they could become. No more, no less.

Still the same thing.

Will remain the same thing in the future.

So, congrats on being ineffectual, I guess?

Benjamin Martin's picture
Benjamin Martin from Portland, OR is reading ... January 12, 2016 - 9:56pm

I'm just going to start off with an apology. This is going to get very long winded, and like the writer of the article, I'm going to use some trigger words. So, in both of these aspects, I apologize.
And, go:

I haven't watched much of Game of Thrones. In fact, I haven't even made it past the half way point of season 1. But what I have seen was gratuitous. The sex in particular. And don't even get me started on the violence (or why sex is seen as a bigger taboo. Even consensual, PLEASURABLE sex, than violence against humans. But that's a debate for another time). It seems like that because the show is aired on HBO, they're using sex and filming it so graphically because, frankly, they can. Who's going to stop them? It's in stark contrast to other shows that have aired on HBO in the past. The one that immediatley comes to mind is Six Feet Under. Sure, Nate is a womanizer, but his actions are either the result of a series of events conducive to a story line or yield consequences that he, if not also his loved ones, then have to deal with. Even Californication, one of my favorite shows, at first glance uses sex just because it's on a cable network. But if you look a little closer, the sex that Hank Moody (as well as several of the other characters) is used as more than a story device. Hank is devestated that the love of his life is marrying someone else, so he buries his pain in booze and women. Charlie is such a pathetic schlub, that he feels he should have sex with his secretary and a budding porn starlet that he ust started having feelings for, despite the fact that he has a wife who loves him (Yes, yes, I know: the squirting incident. And Stu's character. Come to think of it, that argument really only has merit when considering the first two seasons...).
That being said, I have seen the entirety of Jessica Jones. I've even read the first 10 issues of the comic book. I think the difference is this: the writers of Jessica Jones acknowledged that it was rape, whereas the makers of Game of Thrones glossed over it.
Think about the two entities I used in that sentence: writers for Jessica Jones vs. makers of Game of Thrones. It was right there in the script. Hope says it on the prison hospital gurney: "I was raped". As I was watching that episode, I thought to myself, 'holy shit, they're not shying away from this. And Kilgrave did the exact same thing to Jessica. That is a bold and fucking ballsy move to come right out and acknowledge it.' It even goes to the point where Kilgrave denies it. He says to Jessica in the final episode, "I'll make Trish love me. According to you, that would be the same as raping her, right?" It's all realistic. I can't say this with 100% authority, but from what I understand, rape isn't about sex; it's about power, which the show goes out of its way to establish and show Kilgrave has in no short supply. In short, the writers came right out and had several characters say 'Kilgrave is raping these women'. Kilgrave shows no remorse for doing so because he feels like he's the victim, so he's not doing anything wrong. Adding to that, the first episode establish the fact that Jessica is dealing with a very sever case of PTSD. At first you think it's just because she killed someone. Then you come to the realization that Kilgrave made her kill someone. Even worse, Kilgrave made her do things that she didn't want to do, and she had full awareness the entire time. She didn't want to do anything that Kilgrave was making her do, but she couldn't stop it. The same thing with everyone in the support group.
Game of Thrones, on the other hand, went from writing the script to editing to table reads to green light to acting to filming to editing to screen. From what I've come to undestand, not one acknowledgement of what the act really is. The camera even drifts away from the action which is still audible. It's like the camera operator is saying, 'I don't agree with this, but I want to keep my job.'
Is short: Jessica Jones comes right out and says that yes, Kilgrave is raping. Not just one woman, but several. And he knows that other people are saying he's doing it, but he doesn't care and intends to do it again until he gets what he wants. Game of Thrones tries to justify it by not showing it. At least that's my interpretation.

cshultz81's picture
cshultz81 from Oklahoma is reading Best Horror of the Year Volume 8 January 13, 2016 - 1:09am

I can see where the idea that GoT only employs rape scenarios for shock value, but I honestly feel that criticism applies far more to Jaime's rape of Cersei—it was completely pointless and it was never dealt with. As for Sansa, as awful as it was, it does make sense that this would happen to her: this is Ramsey, who has proven himself to be one of the most repugnant characters on the show. I think where the outrage occurs is that Sansa started out as one of those characters we loved to hate, until we realized she was just a child, really, and she was capable of doing good. The writers for GoT are good at doing this: taking a character we initially don't like, then turning our sympathies toward them, and finally turning the lives to utter shit. So when Sansa is raped, it is TOO MUCH for this character, more suffering than we ever wanted for her, too much for her and for us. It's also a moment that helps turn Theon back toward the light, and turn against his master Ramsey. This may be where much of the outcry originates—it's using rape as a device to change the actions of a male character, rather than being used for Sansa specifically.

the other issue is this: much of the outcry came from novel purists, who were upset because Ramsey never raped Sansa in the book, but rather a random character that we had no real connections to. What the show does is place this horrific act onto someone that we actually give a shit about, which makes the moment all the more powerful and gutting. It's a reminder that this sort of thing happens ALL the time, and we should always care.

I do understand the criticism of this moment. Overall, it didn't turn me off to the show, because there are still many stories that I enjoy in the overall narrative, namely Daenyris's arc. That being said, I do think Sansa's rape could have been handled more artfully and with more compassion (and Cersei's rape should have been scrapped altogether, because again, it was POINTLESS, which I'm sure fueled the outcry over Sansa as well). Contrast this with Jessica Jones, which handles the subject beautifully, with the perfect amount of artfulness and compassion. Nobody's criticizing this show because there is nothing to criticize.

mewse's picture
mewse January 13, 2016 - 11:10am

Hi Leah, you propose an interesting question. I was also confused about the calls to boycott GoT after the Sansa rape scene.

I feel that I gained perspective when GoT had the scene where they burn Shireen alive. I felt sick to my stomach and spent a lot of time wondering whether I'd continue watching the show. Is it even ethical to support a show that depicts such gruesome violence against children? What I realized was that they'd found my (normal white adult male) trigger and pulled it, and the discomfort I felt was mirroring what rape survivors must feel with gratuitous scenes like Sansa's rape.

I can't comment on the comparison to Jessica Jones (I guess I have to watch it now), but thanks for the article.

Raeliz12's picture
Raeliz12 January 13, 2016 - 11:17am

Does no one else understand that these are also two completely different time periods? Hi, women had shit rights in Game of Thrones and we're still struggling today, albeit better than in the G.O.T. era. Women were raped, a lot in the time period of G.O.T....there's still an argument of marital rape in today's society, which is apparent in Sansa's rape scene. Rape is awful, but it exists. Using it in writing is not "going too far" it's showing what can/does happen in the world. Oh, and showing a rape scene for 10 minutes isn't bad considering they could show it in very real time if they wanted to! Rape isn't come and gone in ten minutes and it's supposed to make you uncomfortable. That's the point. It's horrible, but was and is an issue so much more than it should be in the world. I myself am writing a modern version of a classic where my story will have a rape scene to challenge rape in today's society and how it's met with disgust, but it's still very prevalent and not enough is being done about it -as I see Sansa's marital rape scene. Oh, and most of what's being discussed is fiction...however, based on some reality in these time periods...there are hundreds of war movies and shows that can be just as traumatizing to those who've experienced war and have long-lasting issues from their experiences...yet when we talk rape...or should I say simply "the R word" everyone loses their minds because they don't want to see it, hear it, talk about it, etc....yet it's very very real and hasn't gone away. The answer isn't to omit it from our films, shows, books, and so on, but how it's used. There are Sansa's all over the world who need activism instead of people posting "too much, I'm never watching this show/film again!" Mad about rape? Do something to stop it from happening. Do something to advocate for the survivors. Don't just turn away. Unless you want to eliminate everything uncomfortable from shows, film, and literature...murder, racism, child abuse/neglect, theft, abuse of power due to ones position, lying, fire, flood, cancer, etc. 

Andrew Conniff's picture
Andrew Conniff January 13, 2016 - 11:23am

Disclaimer: I never been raped or attacked. However, GoT IS a violent shocking show. It is vioolent and shocking to see the women being shot with the crossbow and the rape and it is used to show the level of depravety in those characters and the world the story is set in. I am not going to say there should be outcry for when we meet reek (GoT) - during his transformation is genitals are cut off and mailed to his family and he is mentally enslaved and tortured - it's hard to watch those scenes and I understand people not watching the show for rape and torture scenes. But this article has a point about why some of it is ok and other parts not ok in terms of the reactions of groups of people. I am a man, and what happened to reek is not a common occurance so social reaction is minimal. Prostitutes get raped and murdered at much higher nmbers - yet society remains silent on those scenes. This is the point of the argument. Of course the brutality for Sensei Stark's rape gets a strong social reaction - it happens far too often to women who think they are safe. Whereas somehow as a society we never really picked up on the humanity of prostitutes, many of whome are forced and trafficked into the life and held there by forced drug addiction. I agree with the author here; the outrage should at the very least be equal. 


Amanda Rose Teeter's picture
Amanda Rose Teeter January 13, 2016 - 11:38am

I love this article, I've been saying this for a while.  Personally, I think rape in pop culture is important.  Rape happens, shutting your eyes to it and pretending it doesn't when you're in the comfort of your living room doesn't make it go away, it just stops spreading awareness.


Some of us don't get to change the channel when rape happens.

Adrean Messmer's picture
Adrean Messmer from Oklahoma January 13, 2016 - 11:47am

I think... I don't really know how to start this.

I've never really had an issue with anything on fiction. So, maybe that makes me an outlier in this whole thing. For what it's worth, and I honestly don't think it's much and I shouldn't have to say this to make my thoughts valid, I have been sexually assaulted. I've had more than one person not take no for an answer.

Okay, so, I never got upset about the rape in Game of Thrones. The world was painted as dark. Bad things happen all the time and the Starks were blessed to live outside of that as long as they did. The society the people live in is misogynistic and brutal. I can't imagine what people expected to happen to Sansa.

It's all and terrible, but in the context of the world, I think it's expected. I don't really understand why Sansa's rape is treated as being worse than, say, anything Ramsay did to Theon.

Also, I think it's difficult to tell if her rape does anything to further the story or if it's just more "hey, look how evil this dude is".

All of the uproar about on GoT feels... I don't know. Like, exaggerated considering the material.

Jessica Jones is the first thing I've ever seen that talks so openly about rape and is effects. Jessica straight up says to Kilgrave "you raped me". The show never tries to make the viewer believe that she somehow deserved it. It does show us a glimpse of how he became who he is, but it never uses that to convince the audience that he didn't do horrible things.

Often, in media, I think the problem with the portrayal if rape, especially if the rapist is an important character, is that we're made to sympathize with him and his actions (I'm using the male pronoun here just because it's easier, women can be rapists too). We're shown how the victim maybe brought this on themselves, at least a little bit. In Jessica's case, in both the show and the comics, the only thing she did was save people. Being a good person and using her powers to help someone is what got Kilgrave's attention. In the show, she wasn't dressed in any way that would typically be considered sexy. There's nothing in her demeanor at all that says she interested in him.

We, as an audience, can clearly see that she was not at all asking for it.

It just occurred to me that maybe part of the problem in GoT is the way in which women are treated in general. Sansa going into that room with her head high... It's her duty. She has no choice but to go in and be raped because she is a woman and no is coming to save her. In some ways she's allowed this to happen. She'd been so close to being rescued by Brienne. I dunno, maybe that's nothing.

Anyway, Jessica Jones deal with rape with open honesty. I don't think it's about her getting better or getting over it because I don't think she does. But the way the show handles it is such a surprising relief. GoT is more typical, I guess.

The thing that bothers me is how so many women are spurned into action because of sexual abuse. I'd like to see a leading female superhero with an origin story that doesn't include that. It's shades of I Spit on Your Grave and other exploitation films that act like women only get violent if our one virtue is taken.

I actually really like problematic situations and characters. I don't think anything is black and white. I don't think any of the people that didn't accept "no" from me knew they were being rapey. I believe we need more discussions like the ones offered by these to talk about what consent looks like.

*I typed all this on my phone. Sorry for any grammatical strangeness.

Katherin Sar's picture
Katherin Sar January 13, 2016 - 12:17pm

I agree with pentakillgnar. Jessica Jones in this first season was largely a story of her overcoming the things Killgrave did to her and others and getting her revenge on him. We see her go through various points of healing and dealing with her PTSD from the incidents and eventually come back to her friends ans family stronger. In this way, this is a great example to women (and men) of sexual assaults that yes, this happens, but you can move past it and live your life. It shows them that they do not have to be defined by their abuse. As a former victim, this resonates with me.
I think that a large part of the outroar against game of thrones was that lack of justice. There was no righting of wrongs. And instead of being a story of moving past abuses, it is used more as an entertainment factor. And frankly, the act of hearing these abuses hits home for many people. For victims, its a trigger. But for those who are less aware of it, it forces it in their faces which makes them uncomfortable. Out of sight out of mind. There is a difference between knowing something happens and actually having to face it head on.

Shannon Bradbury's picture
Shannon Bradbury January 13, 2016 - 12:22pm

THANK YOU. This is exactly the argument (along with the gratuitous use of graphic sex) I've been having with friends in the Portland Comics community, many of whom are friends of the creator. It's like hitting a brick wall. 


Women dont need need to be raped to be strong. Women do not need to be portrayed in graphic scenes of sex to be sexually empowered. 


And they sure as fuck don't need it for "character development". 

Jesickah Kiko Banicki's picture
Jesickah Kiko B... January 13, 2016 - 12:30pm

It is super easy. Sansa's rape was not in the books and was added to the show for the sake of shock value and even worse to perpetuate the plot of two male characters. It was used to redeem one male character to an extent and to show how evil another male character is. As opposed to being about Sansa and what Sansa went through. It's not about the survivor and that is wrong, and distasteful.

Jessica Jones on the other hand uses rape in a way that allows ppl to get in the mind of the survivor. The whole show is about the survivors and the journey they must take to recovery in its many different forms. 

Michael Matteo's picture
Michael Matteo January 13, 2016 - 1:16pm

The problem with this comparison is... Game Of Thrones is NOT OVER. We still have yet to see how Sansa progresses from this point. I think people are jumping the gun before actually seeing the full story pan out. There's many more seasons to go along with a couple of more books. You can't argue about a character's development if you haven't seen the full story and development of that character yet . Again, people just want to jump the gun. The rape wasn't just about Theon. What made it so affective was your connection with Sansa and her innocense. I'm sorry but Jessica Jones was a weakly written character. I figured more people would go after Jessica Jones' writers because her character felt a bit shallow, lacking any real depth. Going back to Game Of Thrones, her rape forced Sansa to take action and get the hell out of there. We still have a lot more story to go before we can complain. I really was not surprised by the scene. Ramsey is a dark and brutal character who has done lots of horrible crap. It was the meeting of the show's most horrid, heartless, blood thirsty character with the show's purest and most innocent. Wait until actually get to see the progression and aftermath before complaining. We're too quick to jump the gun and let our emotions get in the way before things play out.

Greg Hallock's picture
Greg Hallock January 13, 2016 - 1:39pm

The issue with the rape of Sansa Stark, is pretty simple: It should never have happened.  You have Sansa wondering Westeros for months with (arguably) one of the most skilled sexual manipulators in the land; Peter Baelish.  Littlefinger is also quite clearly in love with Sansa (or at least the reflection of her mother he sees in Sansa.)  I cannot envision Sansa and Littlefinger wandering for literal MONTHS, and Peter not giving Sansa tips, tricks, advice. 

He knows what is waiting for her. He would have tried to prepare her. It is in his best interest to do so. He wants Sansa to exert her dominence and take control of the north so that at some point he can make use of that alliance.   Baelish would have done everything in his power to make sure the depicted rape didn't happen, or was at least mitigated to the best of his ability.

Rather than get an example of Sansa's character starting to display agency in regards to her surroundings, due to Baelish's tutilage, we are treated to a feckless Sansa akin to Joffrey's mind games in season 2. 

The reason people have issues with the scene is that it was entirely out of character for the position Sansa should have been in. Sansa had Margery (and her grandmother) as advisors and allies (to a degree. . .) She had Littlefinger. She had years of mental torture and imprisonment at the hands of the Lanisters. Yet she shows none of the anguishing character growth that was drawn out over 4+ seasons. 

Instead of getting the empowered manipulator we should have gotten (if inexperienced) we got. . . The Hound's Little Bird being raped.   That is the problem.


leah_beth's picture
leah_beth from New Jersey - now in Charleston, SC is reading five different books at once. January 13, 2016 - 2:07pm

Hey you guys! I had plans of responding to each comment individually, but that will get confusing. There were a bunch of comments at once, while I was away from the computer....

SO instead I will just say...THANK YOU all for coming by and leaving your thoughts! I've read them all (and will read any future comments), and by your sharing, I feel like I'm gaining insight, which is why I wrote this column in the first place. You all are amazing, and I appreciate the respect and lack of vitriol you've all used!


gordito32791's picture
gordito32791 January 13, 2016 - 2:23pm

So I understand the line of thought in this article, but not particulalry in the comments.  So of course purists will say that "Sansa wasn't raped in the books,", but Jane Pool her best firend was raped multiple times by multiple people.  Yet this isn't an article about the books versus the television shows.  

Well these aren't the books, and the scope of the GoT novels is much much greater than is feasable for televeision. There are some points I think worth making.  Mainly that characters within these two fictional stories are very different.  Jessica Jones (and other comic based charaters) have depth but are still driven by generally simple character arcs and realtively simple stories.   GoT is not nearly as simple (as far as character development and story line in general), character motivations and final goals aren't as clear. Yet another point is to look at the intended audiences of these programs, definite adult aduience for GoT and mixed audience for JJ.  So other than the fact that these are both works of fiction comparing the 2 seems a great deal like comparing apples and oranges  

I believe that it is important to look at these scenes in the context of the entire story and why they were included.  It has been said in these comments and elseware that the rape scences (Especailly sansa's) are used for shock value.  I disagree with this statement.  I think that these scenes show important actions that may not shape (it can but doesn't have to) the characters but gives a breif moment of the possible internal monolauge of the charaters (depending on the skill of the actors).  For example when Jaime rapes Cersi that is the beginings of their relationship changing.  Could the same effect be accomplished by a yelling match, or tears, or an intense conversation?  Yes, but it wouldn't have been as powerful no.  It is important to remember we are working with a visual medium and some times that means there are scence that are awful but they are nessesary.

To get to the heart of the issue raised by the article, Why do some rapes ellicit certain responses?  Well that as everything to do with the context, tone, and overall purpose of the scence, as well as those watching it.  You were meant to feel awful and disgusted by Ramsey raping Sansa and that is the response it ellicited from a majority of watchers regardless of gender, sexuality, or past experiences.  I can't stress the next line enough IT WAS NOT FOR SHOCK VALUE.  In JJ her rape did not ellicited the same reactions as it was one of the many facets that drove her to become the charater she is.  Either way both are intense but stopping watching GoT because of 1 scene is some what ludacris (to me that is). Anyhoo there are my 2 cents sorry for the long comment.      

Heiner Pettan's picture
Heiner Pettan January 13, 2016 - 3:25pm

As far as I understand (as a male which means limitations for sure), raping or more precise 'sexual violence' is about control and power. I think that in societies where men are only considered 'real men' when they act dominantly (like in GoT), some men who aren't able to stand their ground use raping as a kind of valve. I'm not trying to give excuses but explain why most rapists are men - at least till now. I fully agree with you that it is necessary to speak about rape as an act of violence of one person against another and not about men attacking women solely.

What does this have to do with Jessica Jones and Sansa Stark? I think the feeling of being helpless when abused is key to understanding the different emotional reactions to the named shows. The violence itself is horrible, no question, but I think being exposed to violence with no chance of escape is what makes it so exceptionally bad. When Sansa Stark is raped, she is forced to just outlast what happens to her because resistance would make things worse. She is alone in GoT's world. Jessica Jones has - as you say - even been raped in multiple ways but that is the past and finally it's her main driver from episode one on to face the source of her former and ongoing pain. After being helpless as a starting point the series is about her coping with it and succeeding eventually. I think if Sansa would have killed Ramsey in cold blood after being raped, the outrage would have been far less because it would show she can go on.

Btw, in Germany we currently have a huge discussion about sexism. You might have heard about what happened in Cologne, Germany, on New Year's Eve. A large group of young men groped and/or stealed from women with the police being unable to stop them effectively. The discussion is split in one about the men's origins (e.g. refugees from Syria) which is interpreted as 'imported sexism' and one about men as being generally sexistic in everyday life.

AnNoTaHig's picture
AnNoTaHig January 13, 2016 - 3:38pm

It's important to consider with the Game of Thrones the adapation from  Books to the HBO show. It's true Rape happens in the books and is used as a plot device and to some extent the viewers that are familiar with the books should expect sexual violence. That said, I think the reason some people found Sansa's rape so upsetting is that it's a clear example of HBO's choice to add more rape "excessive use" as a plot device. In the Books Sansa's is not raped and it's not needed to progess her story line. So it's a clear example where we see HBO choosing to add more sexual violence.  For that matter, the scene between Cersi and her brother also isn't written as violent in the books. So the "last straw" comments may have more to do with that the fans of the books are seeing how much more sexual violence is being added by HBO that we know isn't actually necessary to the individual storylines of the characters.  That's why it seems excessive. 

OceanMadness's picture
OceanMadness from Michigan is reading Caliban's War January 13, 2016 - 4:02pm

Caveat: I have not seen the referenced scene in Game of Thrones, I watched up until the end of Season 1 and found the whole thing too gratuitously violent for my taste. I did however watch Season 1 of JJ.

As a fiction writer & survivor of sexual abuse I take strong issue with the notion that sexual assault ought to be a taboo topic in the realm of the arts. Art is how we make sense of the world around us, and our rape culture is one of those issues that calls for exploration. That said, rape is also used as a tired plot device in a lot of media. Often, even if it's not offensive, it's lazy. Too many times the agency is taken from the victim, or the scene only exists to demonstrate the heroism of the protagonist. The entirety of the Game of Thrones TV series, Sansa's rape included, seems to thrive on shock value, gratuitous violence, and the debasement of women. If it's not disturbing, it's eyeroll-inducing. Obviously everybody is going to have their own personal taste and limits so I am not passing judgment on anyone who does find meaning in these scenes of graphic brutality. I just don't.

Jessica Jones is a whole different ball of wax, in fact I'd say it's more about recovery from trauma than rape per se. It's one of the few shows that does a decent job exploring what it's like to have PTSD and the emotional gauntlet that must be run in the aftermath of abuse. It doesn't focus on the details of the acts, but rather the emotional impact they have on the characters involved. But neither do they completely derail the heroine's life... she copes, not necessarily always in the healthiest way, but she muddles through anyhow.

I have dealt with sexual assault in my own writing. My rule of thumb is that it can't be exploitative -- either for sexual titillation or taking agency from the victim. I'm writing a book that takes place in the middle of a (fantasy) civil war and the simple fact of the matter is it was more realistic to include this as a common war crime than omit it. I take a similar view toward torture -- as writers we have a responsibility to try to get it right. We may not always hit the mark, but we owe it to actual victims of this stuff to think critically about what we are doing and how it may be received.

I have run my sexual assault scenes by others just to get a sense of whether they feel exploitative or gratuitous. While some of the scenes are detailed, I try to focus more on the internal experience of the victim and how it shapes her character. In my current novel, my heroine starts out in a pretty victimized position (exiled, hunted, almost universally despised), and the book is about her getting out of that headspace and learning to master her new, harrowing environment. The sexual assault actually serves to help her develop a sense of mastery over herself. She suffers consequences but they don't derail the plot of the book either. Sometimes we have bigger priorities than delving into our trauma. 

As with most issues, context is everything.

Brandon Baptiste's picture
Brandon Baptiste January 13, 2016 - 4:50pm

" that rape isn't always boy-attacking-girl, that sometimes it's boy-attacking-boy, or girl-attacking-girl"

Further spreading the ridiculous idea that girls can't rape boys I see...I was with you on this article until that line. It frustrates the hell out of me that the idea of a woman being an aggressor sexually is seen as crazy, unless the victim is a girl....then suddenly the idea of aggressive lesbians pop into people's minds.

Just because a man MIGHT have the physical strength to push a girl off, doesn't mean they will use it...and if they did, what sort of confidence to they have in society that their story will be believed once the girl says they hit her?

Just a thought

rachelsalterego's picture
rachelsalterego from Nashville, TN January 13, 2016 - 9:57pm

Of course someone has to take the conversation to male victimization. Yes. Women can be rapists. Yes. Women can commit violent crimes. But that's not what we're talking about. That's a conversation for a different day. Don't be that guy.

Here is my disclaimer: I apologize for how long winded I am and I will try to keep my use of expletives to a minimum.

With that said; let me start with Sansa and GoT. I'm slightly perturbed that only one other person pointed out that Sansa's story isn't over yet. Her season ending was the moment in question and we're still waiting to see what has happened to her and Theon after they escaped Winterfell together. Don't judge how she is effected before her story is even concluded. Now I personally don't feel that her rape scene was not gratuitous. It was uncomfortable, yes, but frankly, rape SHOULD make us feel uncomfortable. I will think it's gratuitous later, if they never bring it up again. Sansa being raped by Ramsay Bolton is like the moldy, putrid cherry on top of the worst sundae ever. Her life has been complete shit for years and she KEEPS SURVIVING. Her father was beheaded in front of her. As far as she knows, the rest of her family is dead. And she spent a horribly long amount of time under the abusive thumb of Joffrey, who is equally as detestable as Ramsay. That doesn't even completely cover everything that's happened to her. Women in her world aren't given many options. Many find strength in different ways, Brienne is physically strong. Cersei and Maergery are both very cunning, manipulative and good at using their sexuality for power. Catelyn had her wit. Sansa has her hope; and everyone has done everything possible to take that way from her.

I can't say why everyone was so outraged by the inclusion of a rape scene (that didn't happen in the book, but neither did the part where Jaime raped his twin sister over the corpse of their son, and that scene made far less sense in the overall plot. It was completely out of character for Jaime. Talk about gratuitous, shock value rape scene. But I digress.) I know I was outraged because rape is a terrible thing that shouldn't happen to anyone. Period. And hasn't poor Sansa been through enough hell already? But I'll still watch the next episode. And I'll watch it with the hope that Sansa turns into a Daenarys level super badass.

Then there's Jessica Jones. The whole story of JJ had much more of an impact on me. I've probably been desensitized to all the Hollywood violence of things like GoT, which to me is a clearly fictitious world. Jessica Jones hits too close to home. It is very gritty, dark and very real. Sure, there are characters with superpowers who can do unrealistic things; but once you take those superpowers out of the equation, it becomes a very real world. Kilgrave is one of the most terrifying villains I have ever seen (And don't get me started on Simpson. That's another conversation for a different day.) I think the scariest thing about Kilgrave is that you wouldn't think twice about him if you passed him on the street. Abusers don't always look like abusers. Rapists don't always look like rapists. The man who raped me didn't. 

Every victim copes with abuse differently. I think that's the beautiful thing about JJ. She doesn't just move on, you don't see her automatically becoming the badass hero of the people. She becomes a raging alcoholic and though it's not depicted in the show, in the comics she becomes a sexual masochist who asks her partners, specifically Luke Cage, to do terrible things to her just so she can feel something again. Her pain is so real that it still makes me emotional just thinking about it. We're talking about rape as something that drives the plot forward. It's not glamorous, but sometimes tragedy is what sets the story in motion. Sometimes it stops the story completely and sometimes it brings everything full circle. JJ's story starts with a different tragedy: the death of her family. But out of that, she literally becomes stronger thanks to the exposure of some toxic chemicals. She moves in with her friend who is being abused by her own mother. JJ helps her friend overcome her abuser and then becomes a superhero named 'Jewel.' And then Kilgrave happens. (Poor fucking Jessica. Hasn't she had enough already?) He's another tragedy that sends her spiraling downward into despair until, with help, she can overcome her own abuser. 

Why are we not equally outraged by the sexual abuse of Jessica Jones when compared to Sansa? I can't say. I think we should be. I think we should always be outraged by rape. The fact that it happens at all is infuriating. But we can't say that one person being raped is worse than another, especially because we think one person is "innocence personified." NO ONE DESERVES TO BE RAPED. It doesn't matter what their character is like or how they dress or what they do for a living. We should be outraged by the idea of rape. But that doesn't mean you should stop watching a tv show because of how it's depicted. We should continue to talk about it. And then we should do something about it. Stop blaming victims and start blaming abusers.

kikibug13's picture
kikibug13 January 14, 2016 - 1:20am

Oh. I thought the difference was very clear: in the Jessica Jones narrative, the rape is punished. Not just by what happens to Killgrave, but by the entire narrative. In Game of Thrones, it's... not. It's just ~part of life~ and what if it happens to everyone? 

kikibug13's picture
kikibug13 January 14, 2016 - 1:21am

Oh. I thought the difference was very clear: in the Jessica Jones narrative, the rape is punished. Not just by what happens to Killgrave, but by the entire narrative. In Game of Thrones, it's... not. It's just ~part of life~ and what if it happens to everyone? 

leah_beth's picture
leah_beth from New Jersey - now in Charleston, SC is reading five different books at once. January 14, 2016 - 5:10am

@Rachelsalterego - Hahaha, thank you for the "don't be that guy." I did try to be inclusive, but I will be even more inclusive next time I write. ;) And thanks for your long, thoughtful comment. I agree... I feel like we should be outraged by all of it, but not in a "I won't watch this show" way. More in a "we need to look at ourselves and see why rape is so ubiquitous in our WORLD, not just our fiction." Someone else said that in the comments, and I couldnt' agree more!!!

mallorysuzanne's picture
mallorysuzanne January 14, 2016 - 8:59am

So- I've been teaching rape culture to my Humanities students, and I'm going to copy and paste the two articles we read as a class, because I think it does a really good job of explaining the concept of rape on television (particularly with Jessica Jones).


Karen Hamshaw-Hart's picture
Karen Hamshaw-Hart January 14, 2016 - 10:31am

Jessica Jones is about the psychological damage and rape in a controlling abusive relationship (albeit here with supernatural plot device).  It is about surviving abuse, about the impact of abuse and rape.  

GoT uses rape and abuse as entertainment in itself.  People who get off on that will have plenty to enjoy in GoT, not so with JJ.

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel January 14, 2016 - 1:12pm

I equate, "don't be that guy" to "don't be a bitch." It's dismissive and rude, regardless if the person was taking the argument in a way it was not intended. Explain why the argument doesn't work, and then move on.

Nimjoe's picture
Nimjoe January 14, 2016 - 6:09pm

I will try to stick to the original question of why GoT inspired outrage and JJ didn't.

In regards to GoT, we live in a culture that looks for reasons to be offended or outraged and the popularity of the show made it a prime target. Rape and rape culture were also dominating media coverage at the time so the show's content dovetailed nicely with major media which is gold for opinion writers looking for clicks and views.

The outrage referenced rape being used as a plot device, focusing on the effect on Theon rather than Sansa, or how the scene was unnecessary fluff. All of which I find to be somewhat true. That being said, rape, like any horrible event can be a perfectly acceptable and powerful plot device. Done well, you can write about it's effects on the victim, the attacker, or anyone else attached to the event. Written well a story about rape can challenge thoughts and promote conversation which is the only way you can change things. GoT proved that even a badly written and unnecessary scene on a popular enough platform can lead to discourse on a legitimate venue.

Bottom line, the outrage(real or not) over GoT served the purpose of the writer's of those pieces whether their agenda was generating traffic or to drive real conversation.

JJ was hard to be outraged over because it was so wonderfully written. I have to disagree with the people on here that say Jessica got revenge. Revenge was never her motive.

She is introduced as an angry person using alcohol to hide from her pain, something victims the world over can relate to. Her initial reaction to Kilgrave's return is to run away, again something victims can relate to. She decides instead to stay and save someone else from Kilgrave. Many victims have so much self-loathing the only way they can feel good is indirectly by trying to help or save others. When she fails she decides she will capture Kilgrave and get justice. Fighting for what is right is another common way for victims to cope. When it becomes clear that there is no way for Kilgrave to be handled by the system she kills him. She doesn't kill him until it becomes clear that there are no other options for dealing with him. She suffers, she copes, she grows, she does what has to be done.

It is a narrative as old as storytelling that still resonates with people everywhere. Someone who has been victimized would be hard pressed not to find some part of JJ to connect with. Which is precisely why I think there was no outrage over JJ.

CSCousins's picture
CSCousins January 15, 2016 - 1:37pm

I have watched all of GOT and JJ, huge fan of both. Here is my two sense.

Trigger warning?! -still getting used to that phrase-

Pointless rape scenes are never pointless. They either add to the character, the story, or they are there for the enjoyment of themselves. People (some) like watching rape scenes and see it as just another sex scene to be enjoyed. This is cause for outrage. JJ does not do this, and I do not think GOT does either.

What GOT does, one of the main features that drew so many to the books and to the series, is it holds no boundaries for it's characters. Like real life, anything can happen to anyone at anytime. This includes death and rape. Death is glossed over as much as rape, not out of callousness, but as a matter of fact. I find it bold to unflinchingly show this. It's not a fairy tale or magical elves, it's what a real fantasy world would look like. UGLY, despicable, depraved, horrifying. Death, Famine, Rape, and pillage.

HERE is why we are outraged over Sansa's rape. because like JJ, Sansa's story is about being a survivor! Not just the aftermath. the dirty thing we don't show. ALL OF IT! From the death of her direwolf, to her family's murder, her torture. Her constant threat of rape. MANY MANY times she is almost raped before. In the alley, during the siege. Sansa's story and character are powerful because she is helpless in a den of snakes and wolves, and yet manages somehow to survive. She finally realizes that all the men she kept turning to and relying on to save her were not the answer. The fool knight, Little Finger, Tyrion.... Just as we think she has finally escaped and is safe and is her own person and strong..... anyone, anytime, anywhere. and we are outraged. Because we love Ayra, (thats what I would do) and we love Tyrion (thats how smart I am) and we love Jaime (yeah i'm a badass!), but at the core, the character we most connect with subconsciously is Sansa Stark. Ignorant, alone, helpless, scared, and barely surviving. and when she is raped.... we FEEL it. and it is an abomination. They don't do it to get ratings, they do it despite ratings. and the genuity to setting and story keeps us coming back. I would be more upset if they tried to soften Sansa's rape scene. 

-On a personal note, the following is my mindspace during GOT and JJ. This has really nothing to do with the issue of outrage. I don't want people to think I was not bothered by Sansa's scene. I was physiically ill after that scene.

When I was young, I was blind to these things.  could pretend that this didn't happen to peole I knew or cared about. Now, for the sake of the people I love, despite the hurt it brings, I refuse to look away. GOT in a similar way has helped me deal with these issues. Compared to romance stories where we get to pretend that all the main characters will never have something horrible like rape happen to them and everything will turn out happy in the end... GOT is probably not the best show for someone who has been through something horrible, but it has it's place. I won't begrudge the makers for maintaining the shows integrity.

Then again, I could be totally wrong.

gordito32791's picture
gordito32791 January 15, 2016 - 10:27am

@rachelsalterego  the rape scence between Jaimie and Cersei, while their dead son is in the room definietly happens in the books, (Storm of Swords, chapter 62 "Jaimie VII"), that aside I agree with a majority of the rest of your argument. 

@jose.f.diaz I don't see "Don't be that guy" as dismissive and rude.  I see it as "Hey we are having a discussion and you are taking disagreement as a personal attack, which it isn't", but I see how it can definitely be interpreted in that manner.

@karenhamshaw-hurt I don't agree that GoT uses rape (any of the rape scences) as entertainment or shock value.  I believe that is serves a legitimate purpose to the story or character development/ arc.  I think this due to the contrast of when/how the rape scence are presented compared to when/how the brothel scences are presented.  The borthel scence are definitely for entertainment.

as an aside I still think a large contributer to the difference in reaction is due to how the scenes in both GoT and JJ are presented.  The difference in production quality (Ie lighting, camera angle/ position, etc) is also part of the different reactions.  Also I think it is important to point out that a majority of the comments reference JJ pretty much as a complete series while there is individal focus on a few scence in GoT.  Looking at pieces so often prevents the view of the entire puzzle.   


xkillbot2000x's picture
xkillbot2000x January 19, 2016 - 1:35am

I'm sure this is going to piss some people off, so I apologize in advance.

I don't understand why there was/is uproar either. The fact is the handling of Sansa's rape scene was done as skillfully as it can while depicting that it occurred. What people are upset about is that it was depicted at all, because frankly it's disturbing. As it should be, because rape is disturbing at its very core. I know this may sound weird, but I (as a survivor of this abuse from an ex that happened repeatedly) appreciate that it was introduced to the story line. Rape makes people uncomfortable, angry, and sad. But it's often depicted as random or one-time occurrences. RARELY is it seen through story telling as happening between a couple, which happens all the time. Rarely do people acknowledge that a victim/survivor can be residing in the same home as their abuser. Rarely can people in a relationship connect the actions of the perpetrator to the person sitting next to them. I think that's what made so many people uncomfortable: it was her HUSBAND doing this to her. Not a stranger attacking her, a guy drugging her, but someone she was expected to eat meals and have children with. Don't be angry with the GoT writers for making this scene, get angry with our society that supports these actions in real life. Get angry at the people who don't believe that this happens in households that could be on your block. And after you're good and angry DO SOMETHING productive with that anger. Volunteer, donate I don't care which. But wagging fingers and flapping gums is about as useful as Donald Trump for President: it makes us look like shit.

Peace and love, Melissa

tommymaunakea's picture
tommymaunakea July 29, 2016 - 10:58am

There shouldn't be a problem with either shows portrayal of rape. Rape happens. It is a horrible and disgusting act but it happens and we can't deny that it does. Also, think of the context in which it was used. Ramsay Snow had been set up as pure evil. He mutilated a mans genitals and all we saw him do was torture for a whole season. I don't think raping Sansa was for shock value. I think it was the expected action of a character as evil as Ramsay. Had he not raped her how would this have fit with his demeanor? It would have made him act completely out of character and made the story disjointed. The beautiful thing about literature is that it has no rules. Censoring art is a job for nobody. You can disagree with something you see on television or read in a book but saying that it shouldn't exist or that it should be toned down is none of your business. That is what the writer chose to happen and that is their artistic freedom to choose. Nobody has the right say the author chose the wrong subject or presented it in a wrong way.