Does TV have a rape problem?
The showrunner for the violent ABC drama “Hannibal,” Bryan Fuller, took aim at “TV’s rape scene epidemic” in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, vowing to avoid it on his show. “There are frequent examples of exploiting rape” on TV he said, adding “’a character gets raped’ is a very easy story to pitch for drama.”
The hit HBO show “Game of Thrones” has repeatedly come under fire for graphic rape scenes, none of which are in the original books by George RR Martin on which the series is based. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said the violence against women had gotten too much, and she quit watching the series on May 18, tweeting: "Gratuitous rape scene disgusting and unacceptable."
Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” was criticized following a storyline in which alleged perpetrators were not prosecuted following a college student’s claims they raped her. Critics said the episode blamed the victim.
So when is a rape storyline in a TV show or film germane to the story, and when is it a crass ratings grab?
Gabriela Tagliavini directed e brutal rape scene in her 2012 film “Border Run,” based on true stories of illegal immigrants fleeing Mexico for the United States.
“I told the male actor what to do to the victim, and the actress was cool with not being told how it would happen,” Tagliavini told FOX411 of the scene. “It was horrific. I used multiple cameras so we got more coverage as I knew I couldn’t do more than two takes, but showing close-ups only of the face can be more telling as you don’t know what is going on. After filming it, I didn’t sleep very well.”
Tagliavini insisted that the scene was necessary to her story, and that film and television can be an important means to help audiences understand the horror of rape.
Mylee Cardenas, a survivor of rape, had to perform a rape scene in rehearsals for the play “Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love” in 2014. The play didn’t make it to the stage, yet rehearsing the scene had Cardenas questioning how necessary it was to actually show the act itself.
“There was a message in the story and why the rape needed to be there… but maybe the scene could have been left out, as tormented as the male character was,” she said.
But German actress Natascha Berg, who recently filmed a savage rape scene in the independent movie “Shadows,” said that while it was challenging to shoot, it was worth it after seeing the emotional reactions from audiences.
“Almost everyone cried and the discussions at the Q&A s after the screenings showed that we had raised awareness for an important topic. There was a strong message and it got through,” she said. “Had we removed the brutal scenes it wouldn't have worked.”
John Foubert, a professor specializing in sexual violence in the School of Educational Studies at Oklahoma State University, noted that even though television executives are “really only interested in ratings, and of course rape scenes generates ratings, but we are nowhere near having it overused.”
“It happens to one in four college women,” he said. “It isn’t covered nearly enough.”
Dr. Hilary Friedman, a sociologist at Brown University, concurred.
“Violence like this rarely ever loses its emotional power,” she said. “People still viscerally respond to graphic war scenes even though they have been portrayed multiple times.”
According to statistics published by the Rape Crisis Center, every two minutes someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted and one out of every six American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.