Let me start again. I recently decided to swap a point of view character from a teenage boy to that of his twin sister. I did that because his quiet and reticent character did not work well with the situation I placed him in, and so I thought that his more ebullient, less cautious sister might bring a little more fire to those scenes. So far, she is proving to be extremely active and resourceful.
In one of the scenes a man of questionable morals and his three cohorts take her prisoner. When I told this scene from the point of view of her brother, the dangers he faced were being beaten, or worse—being killed as an apostate magic-user. When I substituted his sister, both of those dangers remained, but another loomed in front of me: rape.
It might be said that—given the nature of the men—rape, or attempted rape, would be inevitable. In fact, it might even be said that to avoid the issue would be unrealistic. I was a little concerned about this, because I did not want to put her in that position, so I talked it over with my writer besties.
While they understood and shared my concerns about believability, they also vehemently agreed that putting a female in danger should not necessarily have to mean rape. We also came to the conclusion that if rape occurs within a story, it should be a major aspect of the story arc, or a pivotal moment in a character’s development. In this case, that would not be true. Adding rape, or even the threat of rape to this scene would—in my opinion—be nothing more than a cheap way of adding extra danger. I refuse to do that to my female characters.
I have no doubt that some readers—male or female—might feel that fear for her, regardless of whether I point to it. That’s all right. We all bring our own experiences and interpretations to a story; I simply refuse to go there. The leader of these men warns his cohorts to leave her alone, and they are sufficiently afraid of him to do as they’re told. Rape might cross their minds, but since I am not in their point of view, neither I nor the reader have any way of knowing. The girl herself has led a sheltered life to this point, as the daughter of a very devout nobleman. I doubt she would even know what rape was, never mind worry about it happening. She is in as much danger as her brother, why should I make it worse for her just because she’s a girl?
I am in no way suggesting that we as writers should avoid the subject altogether. Rape happens, and it drastically alters lives. I just think that perhaps that we might ask ourselves if it’s a necessary part of the story, or if we’re just using it to turn the danger level up a notch? If it’s the latter, maybe we’re doing more harm than good; instead of bringing a difficult subject out into the open, maybe we’re cheapening it?
I’d love to hear what others think.