Game Of Thrones Failed, But Many TV Shows Succeed In Portraying Sexual Assault — Here's How

Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
In the past month, two popular shows offered brutal depictions of rape, with beloved main characters becoming victims of assault. One show, Game of Thrones, has been widely chastised for how it handled Sansa Stark’s wedding-night rape. The other, Outlander, received mostly positive feedback for its depiction of Jamie Fraser’s rape and torture.

Sansa and Jamie may be fictional characters, but their stories have started an important conversation, drawing attention to a vital missing piece in the long history of how sexual violence has been portrayed on television: What happens to survivors afterward, and how can depicting these traumatic experiences on TV educate and inform viewers about sexual assault?

In the aftermath of Sansa's and Jamie’s rapes, Amy Zimmerman wrote an article in The Daily Beast about TV’s current golden age of “rape glut,” which can be identified on shows like Game of Thrones and Law & Order: SVU. She defined it as “a crime procedural template that doesn’t allow for the psychological complexities of trauma and recovery, and the constant, merciless, explicit exploitation of the theme of women’s disposability in a patriarchal world.”

Bryan Fuller, creator of Hannibal, echoed Zimmerman’s theory in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly. “The reason the rape well is so frequently used is because it’s a horrible thing that is real and that happens. There are frequent examples of exploiting rape as low-hanging fruit to have a canvas of upset for the audience.”

Fuller has chosen not to include sexual violence plot lines on Hannibal because, “[Y]ou don’t have the real estate in 42 minutes to dig deep into what it is to be a victim of rape…All of the structural elements of how we tell stories on crime procedurals narrow the bandwidth for the efficacy of exploring what it is to go through that experience.”

Speaking with Refinery29, Lisa Cuklanz, Professor of Communication at Boston College and author of Rape on Prime Time, says, “Television has a long history of turning rape into a story about men, either as detectives, rescuers, lovers, and partners who suffer, or good men learning to help a wife, daughter, sister, or fiancé deal with trauma…Depictions that place the survivor at the center of the story are still quite rare.”

Many more shows seem to be making an effort to amplify survivors’ experiences, like Outlander did when it spent two episodes on Jamie’s rape and recovery. (Next season will continue to address his traumatic experience.) Katherine Hull Fliflet, RAINN's VP of Communications, says this is key. “We’re at an interesting point where so many Americans are getting their health information from television…It can give the broader public a better understanding of the realities of sexual violence and help equip loved ones with a better picture of this crime and help them have a deeper understanding of what their friend or loved one is going through.”

The statistics are plain and simple: Sexual violence happens in real life — “over 804 incidences in the United States every day,” Fliflet says. Television, in its quest for authenticity, mirrors life, so sexual violence is going to happen on TV. What audiences have started to demand from shows and their creators in 2015, though, is that they treat the subject with the gravity and respect it deserves.

In the following slides, we look at how TV addressed rape this season.
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Photo: Courtesy of BBC Two.
The Honorable Woman

“The Ribbon Cutter” (Original air date: July 24, 2014)
“The Mother Line” (Original air date: August 7, 2014)

What happened on screen:
While visiting a school her family’s foundation helped establish in Israel, Nessa Stein (Maggie Gyllenhaal) discovers millions of dollars of company money have been misplaced. Not realizing it’s a cover-up, she sneaks into Gaza to track down the money, where she is captured and held prisoner with her interpreter, Atika (Lubna Azabal) .

The guard assigned to keep watch over Nessa and Atika rapes Nessa and forces Atika to watch. Nessa becomes pregnant with a son she delivers while in captivity. Most of the series unfolds eight years later, after both women have been freed — but neither one has ever recovered from the trauma.

What happened off screen:
In The Honorable Woman, Nessa’s rape is the genesis for the entire plot; however, it isn’t revealed until the fourth episode. “The first three episodes are a portrait of a woman in shock, and then we understand why that is in episode four,” the series’ creator and writer Hugo Blick told The Guardian. “Too often, when issues of rape become the kernel of a female character…Within dramas, within the context of a thriller, rape is used as a storytelling device so glibly. We make it the middle of our story.”

Even eight years later, Nessa is still coming to terms with her assault. She sleeps in a panic room and passes her son off as Atika’s. In a second sex scene, which Blick described as “controlled consensual sex which goes wrong,” the character “was trying to orbit the problem by returning to it, or returning to the danger of it.”

Maggie Gyllenhaal, who won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Nessa, spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about that scene, which she felt demonstrated an important part of her character. “I had a rape scene in The Honorable Woman where it was clearly written that she’d be saying, ‘No, no, please, no,’ right away. But I wanted her to be complicit and wanting it; the darkest, most painful sex, right up until the point it turned into rape. I wanted her to want something she knew she shouldn’t want.”
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Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
The Newsroom

“Oh Shenandoah” (Original air date: December 7, 2014)

What happened on screen:
Lucas Pruitt (B.J. Novak), the young hotshot who just took over ACN, sends Don (Thomas Sadoski) to Princeton to conduct a pre-interview with a college student (Sarah Sutherland) who started a website where rape victims can name their attackers. Lucas wants Don to see if the student would be able to confront her accused rapists on-air, thinking it’s just the type of story that would make Millennials tune into a 24-hour news network.

From the moment Don arrives at the student’s dorm room, it’s obvious that both she and the viewing audience at home have pulled up a seat at the court of Don’s moral code. During the course of their exchange, Don tells the student, Mary, that she’s participating in online vigilante justice, and her site could become an outlet for spurned women to accuse their exes of rape and ruin said exes’ chances of getting into medical school. In fact, Don had been afraid to meet with Mary in private because he had been worried she would “cry rape.”

As to Mary’s own accused rapists, Don urges her not to confront them on-air. It would just end with her being slut-shamed, Don says. Mary argues that she had gone to the police and had a rape kit done. It should have been the most cut-and-dry, conclusive case ever. Neither Princeton nor the police would substantiate her accusations and prosecute either of the men, though. She wanted to have a voice, and that’s why she started the website.

Mary risking slut-shaming to tell her story publicly was not Don's decision to make. But in discouraging her from confronting her attackers, he silences her. And so he goes back to New York and tells his boss (Sam Waterston) that he couldn't locate the student who’d started the site.

What happened off screen: When The Newsroom’s campus rape episode aired in December, Rolling Stone had just issued a partial retraction to its own campus rape story (it would later retract the entire story and call it a “journalistic failure”). The college rape culture dialogue had reached a fever pitch — from Emma Sulkowicz carrying her mattress around Columbia, to the oddly light-hearted tone during the press conference announcing that Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston would not be indicted on sexual assault charges. Aaron Sorkin couldn’t have known what would happen with Rolling Stone’s story when he sat down to write Oh Shenandoah, but it’s clear that he wanted to address the ongoing problem of campus sexual assault.

Sorkin’s intentions may have been good, but the way the interaction between Don and Mary played out angered many critics and viewers. “Don, the show’s voice of reason (and Sorkin, one presumes), argues that a person has a moral obligation to believe a man accused of rape over the woman who said he’d raped her, as long as he hasn’t been found guilty of rape,” Emily Nussbaum wrote on “As an individual, talking to a rape survivor, Don says that on principle, he doesn’t believe her.”

Alena Smith, who was in the writer’s room while the episode was being drafted, tweeted that she had raised the issue with Aaron Sorkin. “[W]hen I tried to argue, in the writers' room, that we maybe skip the storyline where a rape victim gets interrogated by a random man… I ended up getting kicked out of the room and screamed at just like Hallie [another Newsroom character] would have for a ‘bad tweet.’”

Aaron Sorkin released a statement in response to Smith’s tweets, saying that she had violated “the most important rule of working in a writers room, which is confidentiality.” Sorkin said that arguments were encouraged in the writers’ room, and that he had listened to Smith’s objections to an earlier draft of the Princeton storyline.
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Photo: Gilles Mingasson/ABC Family.
Switched at Birth

“At the First Clear Word” (Original air date: February 3, 2015)
“Black and Gray” (Original air date: February 10, 2015)

What happened on screen:
Bay (Vanessa Marano), one of the show’s female protagonists, gets drunk to the point of blacking out at a college party and has sex with her ex-boyfriend Tank (Max Adler), who is also intoxicated. When she wakes up the next morning, she can't remember if she consented. Although she never said “no,” she also never said “yes,” and that’s what gets Tank expelled from school during a Title IX investigation of Bay’s alleged sexual assault.

What happened off screen: “When we were beginning to break the season last fall, the subject of campus assault was everywhere," says creator Lizzy Weiss. “Everyone was talking about it, and I felt that — as one of (if not the) only show on television with college-age women as the protagonists — we had a responsibility to tackle it. How could we avoid the most controversial and important conversation happening on college campuses?”

“We were reading about messy, confusing situations in which girls doubted themselves and their responsibility because they were drunk, and sometimes they weren’t sure if they had given verbal consent. Maybe they had and hadn’t remembered it. That’s a pretty big dilemma. What I found new to this generation is the concept of ‘Yes means yes’ (versus ‘No means no’), which means you need not only verbal consent, but sober consent. To my knowledge, that had never been explored on TV before.”

Tank also played a pivotal role in the story. Weiss described the character as a “good guy” who “makes a pretty big mistake” that “leads to really confusing situations for everyone involved…It’s our responsibility to teach young people — both women and men — this is the new reality. Understand it.”

Switched at Birth
airs on ABC Family, and the network partnered with Break the Cycle, a nonprofit that provides dating abuse resources for teens, to host post-episode Twitter chats about what happened to Bay and Tank. Weiss participated with the cast and crew.

Weiss and her writers have also discussed the impact the storyline would have on Bay in the future. “Once we moved through the experience with our character, we knew instantly that we couldn’t just drop the story. We would have to be realistic [as] to how it would impact her going forward — her self-esteem, her attitude towards having sex for the first time again, etc. And there’s good drama in it, but it doesn’t define her life. It is something she is putting behind her.”
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Photo: Ron Tom/ABC.
Fresh Off the Boat


“Persistent Romeo” (Original air date: February 17, 2015)

What happened on screen:
Louis (Randall Park) returns from having the sex talk with his son. His wife, Jessica (Constance Wu), asks how it went. He says he went over the whole book. “Did you tell him not to date rape?” she asks. “What?” Louis says. Cut to the room of young Eddie (Hudson Yang), who's staring placidly at the ceiling, telling us in a voiceover that he thought the sex talk went pretty well. All of a sudden, his mom attacks him with a stuffed bunny. “You like that? Well, girls don’t, either! No means no! Respect girls!” she says. Lesson learned.

What happened off screen:
The fan response was mostly positive on Twitter. “I have not seen Fresh Off the Boat…but these are conversations that parents need to be having with their kids,” says RAINN's Katherine Fliflet. “These safety talks are not just about drugs or alcohol or sex, but also extend to sexual violence and sexual assault. Writers can be creative in how they’re presenting this content to viewers. I think it presents an incredible opportunity, and I think it’s one I hope shows continue to explore.
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Photo: Patrick Harbon/FX.
The Americans

“Salang Pass” (February 25, 2015)

What happened on screen:
Viewers learned in season 1 that Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) had been raped by one of her KGB training officers. She later killed him. The show’s third season, which aired from January-April 2015, further explored the role sex plays in Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth’s job as undercover KGB agents. They’re often required to seduce marks to obtain information. Past seasons have shown them doing just that, but season 3 provided additional backstory about the psychological implications behind this behavior.

In a flashback scene in Russia, viewers saw a young Philip trapped in a small room. Over and over again, a person would enter the room, and Philip would perform sexual acts on him or her until he seems to begin to enjoy it. In another season 3 storyline, Philip is ordered to seduce a teenage girl named Kimmy (Julia Garner) in order to spy on her father, who is in the CIA, but he cannot bring himself to commit statutory rape and continue the cycle of sexual abuse.

What happened off screen:
“We see both Philip and Elizabeth as having been trained to use sex in their jobs, and on a certain level, that is very painful and problematic, to be told by your employer that to do your job, you need to have sex. That’s not psychologically okay or healthy for a person,” says The Americans co-creator Joe Weisberg.

“In one entire vein, we see them as sex workers, and we think about how that’s affected them and what it’s done to them. And, a parallel vein, we see them as sexual abuse victims in a way. Early on, we had a fair amount of research done into how these sorts of experiences would impact these characters, and that generated a fair amount of story of us,” Weisberg says.

"This past season, when you saw Philip and Elizabeth finally talking frankly about some of their sexuality, there were flashbacks from Philip’s point of view of his own sex training, and we got to have a little glimpse into how that scorched his psyche. He’s still grappling with those experiences today."

Co-creator Joel Fields adds, “You think about the relationship Philip had with Kimmy over the course of this season, for a survivor to choose not to pass the abuse along at the next opportunity. That’s an incredible moment of growth, and not one you see portrayed a lot. It was an important element of the story from our standpoint.”
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Inside Amy Schumer

“Last Fuckable Day” (Original air date: April 21, 2015)

What happened on screen:
Last season, Inside Amy Schumer addressed sexual assault in the military in “A Very Realistic Military Game,” in which a female video game character is raped, and then gets bogged down in paperwork trying to report it, only to have her rapist return to active duty despite being found guilty.

The third-season premiere returned to the debate with a sketch called “Football Town Nights.” It looked a lot like Friday Night Lights, but it was less about football and more about the mixed messages teenage boys receive about consent from music, adults, the media, and pop culture.

What happened off screen:
In an interview with ThinkProgress, writer Christine Nangle said she got the idea for “Football Town Nights” when she was reading about the Steubenville rape case. She needed a way into the sketch, and decided, “It’s the adults who deserve our ridicule… how permissive the town and the school were.”

“I remember being adamant that it was people who live in the town who say, ‘You’re the coach who don’t like rapin’. I wanted to make sure we were showing the town as complicit and also just looking ridiculous,” Nangle continued to ThinkProgress.

“Clear eyes, full hearts, don’t rape,” the coach and team members chant at the end of the sketch. Sure, it’s a comedy show that’s playing on Friday Night Lights' and the Panthers’ team motto, but given what happened in Steubenville, maybe the message needs to be spelled out that clearly.
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Photo: KC Bailey/FX.

“Bobby’s House” (Original air date: April 30, 2015)

What happened on screen:
Louis (Louis C.K.) spots a couple fighting on the street and tries to intervene, only to have a verbal argument escalate into physical violence. He arrives home after being punched, and his daughters’ initial worry turns into laughter when they learn that his assailant was a woman. Louis seeks out his friend and occasional lover Pamela (Pamela Adlon) to cover up the bruises, but she offers him a deal instead. “Let me make you up like a lady, and you’ll have the best sex of your life.” He agrees.

After Pamela finishes Louis’ makeup, she dons a hat and introduces herself as “Peter.” She asks for Louis’ character’s name, and they do some role-playing as reverse genders. They dance, then move to the bed. After some frantic kissing, Pamela flips Louis over, and that’s when the look on his face starts to indicate peril. “What are you doing? Oh no!” he shouts as the show cuts to a commercial break.

When the show resumes, Louis and Pamela are side-by-side in bed. He asks if she thinks they’ve entered into a new level intimacy. She tells him they can’t sleep together anymore. Smash cut to Louis telling the whole story to his friend in a diner, and his friend laughing in his face while Louis sits there looking defeated.

What happened off screen:
Louie doesn’t shy away from portraying sexual encounters that enter into gray areas of consent (for both male and female characters). Last season, Louis tried to force himself on Pamela after a breakup, and she rebuffed him. Many viewers saw the interaction as attempted date rape, but Louis C.K. had a different perspective. In season 3, a woman forced Louis to perform a sex act on her and also punched him in the face.

has yet to explore the repercussions of these encounters, though. As Kelsey Miller wrote about the most recent scene between Pamela and Louis, “Louie is not a show that tries to ‘send a message’ — at least not a clear one. If the series says anything, it's that life is unimaginably sorrowful and far too complicated for us to fully understand, even while we're in it.”

Perhaps neither Louis C.K. the writer, nor his character has sorted through his emotional response to what happened, and that’s what he’s conveying to viewers. Actions have consequences, but sometimes those consequences remain under the surface, unable to be accessed.
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Photo: Nicole Wilder/ABC.

“A Few Good Women” (Original air date: May 7, 2015)

What happened on screen:
While touring a naval base, Vice President Susan Ross (Artemis Pebdani) meets a young ensign named Amy Martin (Emily Rios), who confesses that she had been raped by an admiral. Ross demands President Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) intervene, but he sends in Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), saying that he can’t get involved in the military justice system. Olivia helps Ensign Martin get an abortion, and her cohort, Abby Whelan (Darby Stanchfield), obtains the necessary base logs to prove that the admiral had, in fact, been present the night Amy was raped.

What happened off screen:
The episode helped publicize the startling statistic Susan Ross stated to President Fitz: “One in three women in the military has been subjected to sexual assault.” It also raised awareness about the outdated Feres Doctrine, the statute that has barred service members from seeking justice against commanding officers in civil courts since 1950.

During the episode, cast members including Portia de Rossi tweeted things like, “Can you imagine rape being considered an occupational hazard? I'm glad we just made that up. #OhWait #Scandal.”

In the end, President Fitz still couldn’t directly address the pervasive and problematic rape culture in the military, so Mellie (Bellamy Young) took action. She’s a sexual assault survivor herself. In season 3, viewers learned that Mellie had been raped by her father-in-law, Big Jerry, and he may have even fathered her and Fitz’s first child, Jerry.

Mellie held a campaign rally in Virginia and promised that if elected, she would create an independent judicial body devoted exclusively to sexual assault claims. “It's wrong that the members of our military can't seek justice without fear of persecution,” she said. The crowd cheered. The audience at home nodded in agreement.
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Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
Game of Thrones

“Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” (Original air date: May 17, 2015)

What happened on screen:
Lord Baelish (Aidan Gillen) returns Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) to Winterfell, and leaves her with the parting words that she must avenge the deaths of her family members. Instead, she’s married off to the diabolical Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon). On their wedding night, he rapes her and forces Theon a.k.a. Reek (Alfie Allen) to watch. The camera cuts away from Sansa and Ramsay and remains focused on Theon’s horrified reaction.

What happened off screen:
Fans were not happy. Not only had Sansa been raped, but the camera had cut away from her, further disempowering her by robbing her of a point of view. “The combination of a horrific, violent rape and a failure to focus on the victim, but instead on the effect of the assault on a male character is a particularly egregious example of leaving a female character out of her own story,” says Rape on Prime Time author Lisa Cuklanz.

This isn’t the first time Game of Thrones has been questioned for its depiction of rape. Last season, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Cersei (Lena Headey) had what many viewers deemed to be non-consensual sex next to their son Joffrey’s (Jack Gleeson) corpse. In the books, that scene was more consensual. Sansa is not raped in the books, either; on the show, she has taken over a minor character from the books’ storyline.

Still, the series’ creator, George R.R. Martin, and the show’s producers all argue that sexual violence and the patriarchy’s dominance are part of the medieval-inspired period in which the show takes place. Alyssa Rosenberg of The Washington Post found that Sansa’s marital rape was in keeping with that established framework. “[T]his scene felt of a piece with the way I’ve always understood Game of Thrones and George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire: as a story about the consequences of rape and denial of sexual autonomy,” she wrote.

Sansa's wedding night rape served as the beginning of Theon Greyjoy's redemption — the season 5 finale saw him rescuing Sansa from Myranda's (Charlotte Hope) arrow and the two of them escaping Winterfell together. It's disappointing that her violation could be used to advance a male character's arc, but after five seasons of storylines like this, it's no longer surprising.
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Photo: Courtesy of Starz.

“To Ransom a Man’s Soul” (Original air date: May 30, 2015)

What happened on screen:
The sadistic Captain Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) spares Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) from the gallows at Wentworth Prison and keeps him in the dungeon. After Jack discovers Jamie’s wife Claire (Caitriona Balfe) trying to help him escape, he allows Jamie to offer his body in exchange for Claire’s life, and Claire is allowed to go free.

Jack repeatedly rapes and tortures Jamie, mixing pain and sexual acts with psychological disorientation, until Jamie finally reaches fulfillment during intercourse with Jack, thinking he's with his wife. When Claire finally frees Jamie from captivity, he remains traumatized and cannot separate her from Jack in his mind.

What happened off screen:
“[T]hat’s not typically where your story goes with your lead male hero,” creator Ron Moore told The New York Times. “This wasn’t a scene about homosexuality. It’s a scene about rape, assault, and two men trying to draw lines in the sand for themselves and each other. It’s about when Jamie experiences pleasure: Is it really pleasure or is it more about comfort? He’s a torture victim who experiences a release and allows himself to feel good for that moment, then has horrible guilt about it.”

“It was important we see what happens to Jamie so we know why he is the way he is (in Season 2) and to see him move on with his character and his relationship with Claire,” Sam Heughan told The Daily Beast.

spent two episodes depicting Jamie's trauma and the effect it had on him. In the end, he emerged a survivor, not a victim. It will forever shape his character and relationship with his wife. “It’s not easily forgotten,” Ron Moore told The Times.

After the season 1 finale aired, Heughan retweeted a message from RAINN. “Did you watch #OutlanderFinale tonight? 1 in 6 men have been affected by sexual assault. Get help f/ @RAINN01 & @1in6org.”
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Photo: JoJo Whilden/Netflix.
Orange is The New Black

"A Tittin' and a Hairin'" (Original air date: June 12, 2015)

What happened on screen:
Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett (Taryn Manning) is sexually assaulted not once, but twice during episode 10 of OITNB’s third season. One rape occurs during a flashback of Pennsatucky as a teen, and it’s juxtaposed with the story of her first experience with love, trust, and true intimacy.

Then, in present-day Litchfield, Pennsatucky is violated on the backseat of the van by Officer Coates (James McMenamin), with whom she’s been having a confusing and inappropriate relationship. “I love you, Doggett. I love you,” Coates repeats over and over as he rapes her. The camera stays focused on Tiffany’s face, which remains impassive save for the tears streaming down from her eyes.

In episode 11, Orange Is the New Black follows up on the storyline. Boo (Lea DeLaria) notices that Pennsatucky isn’t her usual self, and that she’s wearing a new bracelet. Upon taking a closer look, Boo sees the bruises on her wrist the bracelet is concealing. “Did he force you?” Boo asks.

“I’m not gonna lie…I could’ve used a bit of a warm-up. It doesn’t feel really good when you’re not ready,” Pennsatucky said, drifting into that sing-songy voice she used when she first got out of the hospital after her fight with Piper and wasn’t fully mentally present.

“You know, there’s a word for that, right?” Boo presses.

“No. Nah. It’s not his fault. I was the one; I was flirting too much, and I was smiling. I was really confusing,” Pennsatucky says.

In a later scene, Boo goes for the tough-love approach. She dumps a bunch of food on Pennsatucky’s bunk and says “I’m buying you…You’re for sale, so I’m purchasing your services. Just check out and go to your happy place. I’ll be quick.” She continues to list extreme sexual acts she’s going to perform on Pennsatucky, who finally breaks down in tears and admits, “I wanted him to stop.”

In the next episode, the two inmates plot a revenge scheme to rape Coates, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo-style. When the moment, arrives, though, neither one can follow through. “I don’t have rage; I’m just sad,” Pennsatucky says.

What happened off screen:
“These portrayals are leaving the audience with a better understanding about the realities of sexual violence,” Katherine Fliflet from RAINN says. She wasn’t speaking specifically about the scenario presented in Orange Is the New Black — the new season had not yet premiered when she spoke with Refinery29; however, Fliflet's words echoed the reactions Pennsatucky had to her assaults, such as “why somebody may be grappling with those feelings of fear or self-blame.”

Pennsatucky has always been a complex character. In season 3, viewers were given more explanation as to why. Through her storyline, OITNB was able to demonstrate both the short and longer-term effects of sexual violence on a character in a way that didn’t feel exploitative or shortchanged.
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“Has the golden age of TV been replaced by the age of rape and torture?” Sarah Seltzer asked in an article on Flavorwire posted in May. For shows that fall into the “rape glut,” where sexual violence is used merely as an exploitative plot device or way to communicate that a character is evil, it can certainly feel that way.

As the incidences of sexual violence on the past season of television indicated however, sexual assaults take on many forms and a sexual assault survivor might be someone you’d least expect. Many shows continue to work with organizations like RAINN from the very early development of a storyline involving sexual violence. This includes everyone from writers and researchers to talent talking to experts and real-life survivors to make sure they’re giving their experiences justice.

“Another way that we’ll work in a broader way with the entertainment industry, in a really critical part, is helping networks create a responsible airing surrounding an episode,” says RAINN's Katherine Fliflet. “(For example), to make sure not only that the National Sexual Assault Hotline information is provided on screen (like Reign did in this PSA) after the episode, but the message about getting help can also be incorporated into a television show’s digital platforms and social media outreach.”

“So often the depiction of sexual assault on television has the potential to trigger difficult memories, especially to those who have experienced sexual violence,” Fliflet continues. “And for those who are struggling, for those who have been through this, it can actually be that motivating factor that can give a viewer confidence or really encourage him or her to reach out for first time.”

If you or someone you know is a sexual assault survivor, these resources are available to you 24/7.
— The Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Support Coalition provides 24/7 guidance and listings of shelters, legal, and free counseling services by state
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network): Call 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected to a local RAINN affiliate organization; or chat with someone 24/7 online
— For questions about domestic violence and abusive relationships, visit Love is Respect
Break the Cycle is a nonprofit that provides dating abuse resources for teens
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