Why Rape/Abuse Victims Need More Characters Like Sansa Stark
(Spoilers Ahead for Game of Thrones S6E9!!)
With the recent epic episode of Game of Thrones we finally can breathe a sigh of relief with the ending of the heavily plot armored Ramsey Snow, but most importantly we are seeing Sansa finally gain control of her own struggle and had the pleasure of getting back at her once abuser. The climax to this story ended with the hint of her smile was all so sublime and satisfying.
It was a long time coming.
Sansa has not had just one, but 2–4 experiences of abuse (depending on who you ask) throughout the course of Game of Thrones. From her initial crush turned nightmare relationship with Joffery, her marriage to Tyrion as manipulated by Cersei, Littlefinger using her as a pawn while simultaneously trying to get with her, to her falling into the horrible hands of Ramsay, we have watched this girl time and time again be forced into reprehensible situations with little relief and hope.
As a viewer it was a hard watch and made many of us wonder if there was any point to all of her suffering.
Too often when rape, assault or abuse is used in media it is used as a plot device to move a story forward. Often, particularly in video games, it is used as a way to differentiate between someone who is good or evil, but the victims are rarely the main character, and even when they are, the rippling effects of the abuse is left under analyzed.
With the recent episode, Sansa portrays both the trauma of the situation but also the strength that can be harnessed from abuse depending on how you approach your situation and this is vital — rather than being defined by her abuse she is overcoming.
While people are saying that Sansa is becoming a ‘badass’, it’s not really as simple as that — she has endured years of abuse and had had to shift her world view in order to adapt. Unfortunately, most women in the world contend with this on a regular basis even without trauma — the world is a dangerous place for women (particularly women of color and lower income) and you learn that quite quickly growing up. Like Sansa, 7/10 women experience physical or sexual abuse in their lifetime.
There isn’t a lot of comfort in that realization, and few things that provide comfort for abuse victims who have had these realizations and experiences. Instead, it is an alienating and confusing experience— when the media made for women largely lives in ideal fantasy of disney princesses and romantic comedies there are few things that provide comfort for those who then enter adulthood and face a similar disillusionment to Sansa when they’re forced to contend with a world of harassment and hostility. And unfortunately, many adults largely feel uncomfortable or do not realize that it is extremely valuable to introduce their kids to matters of consent, abuse, etc, in a realistic and prepared way.
So when you face abuse, you’re often alone. Most abuse victims rarely have a clear sense of their situation or know how to talk about it. It’s vital in the media to reach out to people facing or dealing with abuse when they themselves can begin to contend with it. And with Sansa’s case, its important to showcase both the trauma as well as showcasing the hope that things can and will get better.
The word victim itself is troubling — many victims can become defined by their abuse as we see in Theon’s case currently. Their approach to the world becomes different and overcoming it can take many years of healing. They are often haunted by that experience, as Ramsay gleefully reminds Sansa that he is a part of her, and they rarely go away.
Sansa’s character is not just for abuse victims. If you look closer, Sansa’s character also helps teach those closest to abuse victims what they are going through and how to best aid them.
Trust, as we see with Sansa, becomes a tricky thing. I noticed a lot of people were initially frustrated that Sansa wasn’t so eager to trust Jon when she reunited with him. If the writers were doing their homework, they know very well that abuse victims have a terrible relationship with trust. More than half of sexual assaults are committed by people close to the victim, and most times the victim is not aware that they are in danger initially. Due to this, abuse victims begin to see conflicting sides of other people and are more keenly aware of the potential dangers of a seemingly harmless person and situation. So it’s not unheard of that Sansa, now years older, even with knowing that Jon is a good person, struggles with seeing him, as a man, differently. While it is clear Jon is a good and safe person for her to be around, her abuse heightened her awareness towards the world around her and how it operates.
In the pre-battle scene with Sansa and Jon Snow, we see Sansa make an important distinction, she knows Ramsay better than anyone else. Unlike in Game of Thrones where Joffery and Ramsay were very boldly announcing to the audience and the rest of the world that they were horrible people, often times abusers are not clear as day bad people. It becomes a large issue in court cases regarding abuses where the jury may fall for an otherwise charming abuser. It is important to listen to abuse victims. Many are more keenly aware to the double-sidedness of a person that is otherwise a stranger to the outside world. I know, I know, there are a few people who will concoct narratives about someone causing an abuse for whatever horrible reason, but they are a minority, and far more of them are called out than the large amount that are telling the truth but are often ignored.
And this reality causes a lot of bitterness. Along with mistrust, a lot of abuse victims tend to become more isolated and more numb. They know well that the world will rarely be on their side or protect them and so they infrequently open up. What we are seeing with the growth of Sansa’s character is a very firm and icy exterior. It’s important to note, Sansa likely doesn’t want to be this way. It is a mechanism that many abuse victims utilize for survival and self-preservation. Those who break from their status of abused victim tend to turn that fear into a very strong shell. Some will turn inward and will disrupt their general life regimen in order to feel safe again. It is unusual for them to be as open and forward with their feelings and struggles, perhaps taking unusual steps in their daily lives in order to comfort themselves.
If the world is not there to protect them, they will protect themselves.
While some see it as a positive, otherwise worry it may make her a hanging judge. Both directions seem plausible and a fair assumption for someone who has faced such trauma, but I hope her conquering her victimization is shown with a lot of maturity.
It is equally important to not just show the trauma, but also extremely important to see a victim overcome their victimization. It is important to give hope to victims, to remind them they are not alone and that they too can use their experiences as not a defining experience, but one that can overcome to grow into a stronger version of themselves.
Simply put, assault victims need more heroes.