April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and in honor of that Rachel Edidin has dedicated a series of articles to the issue of sexual assault as a plot device in comic books. The most recent installment offers some advice on creators considering a storyline in that direction:
2. Here are some questions to ask yourself if you’re considering including a sexual assault in a story:
-Why do I want to write a story involving sexual assault? If it’s because you think it’ll raise ratings, make your story more “mature,” or identify you as sensitive to women’s issues, think again. If you are an assault survivor writing to exorcize inner demons, seriously consider whether this particular story is the best context in which to work out your issues. I don’t say this to discourage any survivors from telling their stories–something I think is vitally important–but I do want to stress that a fiction story may not be the most appropriate context for doing so, particularly if it involves other people’s characters or plotlines (as in a shared-universe superhero comic).
Some of the worst stories out there come from genuinely concerned individuals who want to raise readers’ awareness of sexual assault issues. Remember that something that you care passionately about or that has affected you deeply and personally may not be the best subject for a fictional story, since it’ll be very hard to separate yourself from your work enough to get a decent perspective.
-How will it affect the development of my characters? Even though sexual assault is a big deal, it’s rarely the single defining experience of a survivor’s life. Using it as a shortcut to character development is a cheap and ultimately ineffective trick, and it’ll come back to haunt you later.
-How will it affect continuity? Will it matter? Why, or why not? “Because rape is a big deal” is not a good enough reason.
-How much do you actually know about sexual assault? Are you a sexual assault survivor? Do you have close friends who are? Have you ever sat in on a rape trial? Have you ever spoken with a perpetrator? If not, odds are pretty good that you have a flawed understanding of the factors surrounding sexual assault, and you’re going to need to do some serious research to write about it without falling into stereotypes.