Op-ed: Graphic violence in film is dangerous if left unaddressed


"Watching a blank screen" by ToastyKen is licensed under CC BY 2.0

It’s time for unnecessary violence in film to be done away with.

Yeva Khranovska, contributor

Content warning: Discussion of sexual assault.

Editor’s note: The Huntington News wants students to know Northeastern University and elsewhere provide sexual assault resources for students.

  • WeCare: [email protected]du, 617-373-7591, 226 Curry
  • University Health and Counseling Services (UHCS): [email protected], 617-373-2772, Forsyth Building, 1st Floor
  • 24/7 Mental Health Support: for students by phone ([email protected]) – 877-233-9477 (U.S.), 781-457-7777 (international)
  • Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Sexual Assault Prevention and Survivor Services (SAPSS)


Since 2015, student rates of sexual assault have risen, with almost one in four undergraduate women experiencing sexual misconduct on campus. COVID-19 has exacerbated sexual violence and domestic abuse, bringing up renewed discussion on ways to address and reduce assault. This conversation has been made even more relevant on campus with a recent article in The Scope, in which some Northeastern students expressed that the university does not adequately address sexual assault allegations. Feelings of failure to reprimand perpetrators and hold them accountable by the university are also shared by survivors detailing their stories on NEUtoo.

Rape culture is deeply prevalent on college campuses as well as society as a whole, propped up by many institutions, customs and attitudes. One of the many ways in which sexual violence is normalized is through the inclusion of violence in film and other media. Every year, countless films and TV shows are released consisting of violent assault scenes, leaving a lasting effect on its viewers.

Studies show that men who watched movies showing violence against women expressed fewer negative emotions toward those movies and began to consider them as less violent and less degrading to women. In a separate study, it was found that this leads to reduced empathy for survivors regardless of the gender of the victim in films, acceptance of rape myths and increased attraction to sexual aggression. For women, this trend is actually reversed, with women who were exposed to filmed sexual violence being more disapproving of interpersonal violence and rape myths. There is a clear negative effect on the viewers, their attitudes and consequently wider society.

Shows, such as “Game of Thrones” and “Outlander,” heavily feature on-screen sexual assault of men, women and children, which has caused backlash from some viewers. These particular examples are often shielded by the fact that such scenes are either historically or contextually accurate. Parts of “Outlander” are set in mid-1700s Scotland and the world of “Game of Thrones” is based on medieval Britain. But it is not enough for sexual assault to just be historically accurate, it must also be portrayed correctly, both with regard to the story and the viewers themselves. Unless these violent depictions actually confront and dissect power structures which allow and perpetuate abuse to take place, they have no place being included. So frequently, sexual assault is used to add ‘grittiness’ to the film, or give a character a more traumatic background, with little attempt to tie it into social and contextual factors. To be clear, I am not advocating for a sort of censorship in which we don’t even attempt to portray the experiences of survivors, but I am suggesting that unless there is a valid reason for sexually violent scenes to be shown, they should not be. In those cases all they do is desensitize the viewers to interpersonal violence and condition us to be more likely to overlook violence in reality.

There are many facets of rape culture and contributing factors to high sexual assault rates which still need to be addressed and resolved. And while reducing cinema’s portrayal of brutalization is not going to completely solve these very pervasive issues, it is a step toward making viewers perceive violence as the serious and dangerous phenomenon that it is. Considering the prevalence of media and film in our day-to-day lives, increased education and awareness of how the media impacts our attitudes is of paramount importance.

Yeva Khranovska is a second-year political science and philosophy combined major. She can be reached at [email protected]