When it comes to the sexual violence on Game Of Thrones, Sophie Turner agrees that it shouldn't go ignored. And while she understands the horror that many felt watching her character Sansa get brutally raped by her husband, she wishes fans would channel that anger in a better way. In an interview with Time, Turner talked about how Sansa's sexual assault became public discussion with many defending and supporting her character. "This was the trending topic on Twitter," the actor said, "and it makes you wonder, when it happens in real life, why isn’t it a trending topic every time?”
It's a good question, and one worth asking when it does seem as if fictional characters receive more love and support in the public realm than real life survivors. Turner would like to see people take that concern and use it to help those survivors who truly need assistance get their voices heard. "Let’s take that discussion and that dialogue and use it to help people who are going through that in their everyday lives," she told Time. "Stop making it such a taboo, and make it a discussion.”
That's actually what Turner did. In an essay the actor wrote for Huffington Post UK back in March, she said that shooting that scene actually encouraged her to travel to Rwanda to help alongside the U.K. nonprofit Women for Women International, which looks to help “women survivors of conflict.”
"To be completely honest," Turner wrote of the outrage over the Season 5 episode. "My initial reaction was satisfaction: That rape, domestic violence and systemic sexual inequality is something we are capable of talking about; that we are capable of creating and sustaining a visible public dialogue." She'd like to put the focus not on the brutality of that scene, but on the conversation Sansa's sexual assault could start. "I don’t think it’s easy to overstate the importance of that dialog," she wrote. "If, by seeing us tell that part of Sansa’s story, 10 survivors of sexual violence felt empowered to talk about their experience, I’ll happily put up with the Twitter storm in a teacup."
Turner is right that the stories of rape and sexual assault survivors should not be swept under the rug. But, on the same note, shows like Game Of Thrones need to stop using rape as a cheap plot device or a way to show a character's strength.
In that same Time interview, creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss said the only logical outcome for Sansa was the assault scene they wrote. "It might not be our world,” Benioff said, “but it’s still the same basic power dynamic between men and women in this medieval world. This is what we believed was going to happen. We talked about, is there any other way she could possibly avoid this fate that doesn’t seem fake, where she uses her pluck to save herself at the last?” But, in actuality Sansa was always strong. She absolutely didn't need to be sexually assault to find that part of herself. And part of the reason why viewers were so angry was because this storyline seemed like a cheap writing technique.
Turner is right that TV shows can help make serious change when it comes to how the world looks at sexual assault. But these shows need to understand that there is a responsibility that comes with telling these important stories. They need to push the conversation further not only offscreen, but onscreen, too, to show that these stories are made to incite more than Twitter outrage.