Rape Is the New Dead Parents

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

A lot of amateur writers out there find the tragic backstory appealing. After all, most of the interesting characters didn't get raised in Suburbia, USA with a loving, complete family that cared for them. That's just boring. But Character Development is just sooooo hard. You mean you have to explain things? But it takes so long to establish mental illness and physical handicaps would only get in the way. Can't you just say they got raped and be done with it?

Anyway, this is the tendency for beginning (or otherwise very lazy) writers (usually of Fan Fiction and role playing, but it can appear just about anywhere) to just casually drop rape into their characters' story for Deus Angst Machina (or, probably more accurately, Wangst). Usually found in backstory, but it's not uncommon for rape to happen "on-screen" via two sentences that wouldn't even qualify as IKEA Erotica. They think that rape would add some dimension of frailty to their character and give a good reason for moodiness, but do it in such a flimsy and unexplored way that it means, well... nothing. They'll just mention it like they're mentioning a casual detail on their college application ("I went to summer camp three times in a row, was the head editor of the yearbook, got raped once, formed the calligraphy club..."). Perhaps the hallmark of the Sympathetic Sue, this trope tends to evoke kneejerk revulsion with its use. It takes one of the most horrible things that can happen to a person (something that takes years to get over, if ever) and turns it into a cheap shock.

Also frequent is to drop a history of prostitution within the character's backstory with similar implications. If you see this, it's often assumed that it's supposed to be the type that involves some element of human slavery, with nearly every 'client' being some abusive scumbag. This is an example of Did Not Do the Research. Not all 'clients' make it painful, and one major reason for becoming a prostitute is a drug addiction - although of course, drugs never come into it. That would suggest it was the character's fault.

The classical line for this trope is "Jane once got raped when walking home one night [optional:and her parents didn't care]."

Note that this is not merely Rape as Backstory. While it often overlaps, that has its own page and is neutral. Also note that this is not just poorly handled rape; it has to be out of the story's attention within at most a minute and never show up again.

The trope name comes from the fact that Parental Abandonment used to be the stock "tragic background" of amateur created characters. Perhaps due to a combination of dead parents becoming truly cliché, the fact that rape is significantly more common and personal, and the fact that it spares everything short of the character's virginity, rape has replaced the dead parents for lazy tragedy.

Examples of this in amateur writing are too depressingly numerous to list and too forgettable to remember. It still occasionally makes its way into the more dubious works, however. Differentiated from Rape as Drama and Rape As Comedy in that its neither of these. It's just... there. Often related to Women in Refrigerators. Usually conflated with Gratuitous Rape, although for this trope ends the gratuitous forced sexual act doesn't necessarily need to be shown, only mentioned.

Before adding an example, please think of whether or not the trope could be removed without impacting the rest of the story any more than 2% requiring a rewrite. Anything suggesting otherwise will be moved/deleted.

No real life examples, please; First, this is a rape trope, and All The Tropes does not care to squick its readers. Second, this is a trope about how characters are depicted in media. Please don't use this page to smear the reputations of real people.

Examples of Rape Is the New Dead Parents include:

Anime and Manga

  • Subverted with Casca in Berserk, where it didn't get past the Attempted Rape stage. Griffith saved her... then handed her a knife and told her to kill the guy. She did. By the time Guts joins up with the group, she's an Action Girl. Pity what happened next.
    • On the other hand Guts is both an exception to the Double Standard and an aversion, as he gets both dead parents and a rape as part of his backstory, and struggles with the consequences over the next nine volumes - and when he finally starts to recover, well...

Live-Action TV

  • Subverted in the US version of The Office. When cornered for altering some files, Kelly tries to use rape as an excuse and is chastised for it by Michael, who tells her that she can't keep doing that.
  • Used in the pilot of The Secret Life of the American Teenager. The Troubled but Cute Ricky was molested by his father and while it's clearly meant to be a Freudian Excuse for his misogyny, it was so briefly touched on and so poorly acted out that it just failed to do anything but fill sixty seconds of screen time.


  • A good selection of 19th century British fiction represents this trope.
  • One troper read about an old mystery where a woman says, "He tried to rape me, but I'd forgotten about it." The writer of the book where they read that (a man) nominated that for a Male Chauvinist Piggery Award.

Web Original

  • Survival of the Fittest has several characters in version one and the version two pregame (most characters in version two proper either Retconned it out or didn't use it to begin with) who mention having been raped in their profile, to the point that some handlers were exasperated to the point of asking if anyone had not been raped. Most of the time it was just mentioned once and then never brought up. There was also one v1 character who worked as a prostitute. A variation appears in the increasingly common event of characters being raped in game. It went from one disturbing event in version one to something that happens at least once in every game.


  • This trope is depressingly common for Action Girl heroines in fantasy fiction, where it's used as justification for this woman taking up the sword and becoming tough and badass. Instead, it comes off as a cop-out, with the Unfortunate Implications that a strong female hero has to have been degraded and humiliated at some point before male audiences will accept her. Those who haven't been raped in their backstory will probably be at least threatened with it at some point. Male heroes hardly EVER get this.