Rape scenes require an expert hand or you could be writing a rape fantasy, which is where I think people tend to get in trouble. The trick is, to focus less on the act, and more on the horrific scenario.
I think Steig Larson handled this subject well in his best seller, 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo'. In chapter 13, he takes us through a vivid rape scene, which is actually the 2nd assault in the book. Although you can imagine what has happened, there is nothing offensive about the way he describes the incident.
So let's break it down. I'm assuming you're familiar with the story, if not check out a brief synopsis here: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Synopsis.
At the point where the main character Salander goes to see Bjurman's (the antagonist/rapist) home, she is there to hurt him for a previous assault. Unfortunately, she already knows something is off by the time he opens the door.
"The plan began to go wrong, almost from the start. Bjurman was wearing
a bathrobe when he opened the door to his apartment. He was cross at
her arriving late and motioned her brusquely inside...
"Haven't you learned to tell the time?" Bjurman siad. Salander did not
The author goes into a few details of what she's wearing and goes into Bjurman's mood a little further.
"Come on" Bjurman said in a friendlier tone. He put his arm around her
shoulders and led her down a hall into the apartment's interior. No
small talk. There was no doubt as to what services Salander was
expected to perform.
For the most part, Larson told us to expect that something really bad is about to happen. You can anticipate it as he pretty much tells you
The plan began to go wrong, almost from the start.
And he proceeds to take us through Bjurman's mood swings...first annoyed and then creepy. Taking her to the bedroom is a good indication of his intentions and expectations. You know she's not happy about the situation.
In most cases, you should use the setting to your advantage. Larson does a great job at making something as intimate and cozy as a bedroom seem like a dangerous, unforgiving space. He describes the room in detail so we get a feel of what she's seeing:
She took a quick look around. Bachelor furnishings. A double bed with
a high bedstead of stainless steel. A low chest of drawers that also
functioned as a bedside table. Beside lamps with muted lighting. A
wardrobe with a mirror along one side. A cane chair and a small desk
in the corner next to door. He took her by the and led her to the bed.
By itself, the room doesn't have any sinister qualities, but in context, says a lot.
Bachelor furnishings...high bedstead of stainless steel
You can read some symbolism into that if you want: No one else will be there to save her in this cold space.
Either way, we get a good sense that this guy probably doesn't get any female visitors other than the ones he forces there through coercion. This helps heighten the possibility that bad things are going to happen. By this time, we're wondering...would he?
Larson uses dialogue to bring us into Salander's frame of mind. We know she doesn't want to do what he's expecting. They go back and forth a little as she simply asks him for money she knows he won't give her until he gets what he wants. Knowing that he has so much control over her financial welfare puts her in a position of weakness.
Through dialogue, we get a sense of his perverted power trip.
"Tell me what you need the money for this time. More computer
accessories?" "Food" she said...
..."Have you thought about what I said last time?" "About what?"
"Lisbeth, don't act any more stupid than you are. I want us to be good
friends and to help each other out." She said nothing. ...Did you like
our grown-up game last time?"
"No." He raised his eyebrows.
"Lisbeth, don't be foolish."
If you're not creeped out by this guy by now, you've got issues. Through dialogue alone, Larson paints out Bjurman's to be a vile and disgusting human being. You hate him, even before he carries out the deed. She's stalling, finding every way possible to not go through with his demand, but she knows he's got her over a barrel.
Consider stressing the vulnerability and hopelessness of your characters in this moment.
..."I want my money. What do you want me to do?" she says.
"You know what I want." He grabbed her shoulder and pulled her towards the bed.
"Wait," Salander said hastily. She gave him a resigned look and then
nodded curtly. She took off her rucksack and leather jacket and rivet and looked around...
"Wait", she said once more, in a tone as if to say that she was trying
to talk sense into him. "I don't want to have to suck your d*** every
time I need money."
Again, tension is heightened and we know Salander has reached her end. She's not having it. From here, Larson takes us through the actual assault.
This is where you want to tread carefully. There's a fine line between writing a graphic scene and being graphic. You don't want to focus on the actual rape (as in penetration, ect). Everything up to that point can be in great detail.
The experession on Bjurman's face suddenly changed. He slapped her
hard. Salander opened her eyes wide, but before she could react, he
grabbed her by the shoulder and threw her on the bed. The violence
caught her by surprise. When she tried to turn over, he pressed her
down on the bed and straddled her.
"Like the time before, she was no match for him in terms of physical
strength. Her only chance for fighting back was if she could hurt him
by scratching his eyes or using some sort of weapon. But her planned
scenario had already gone to hell...
Shit, she thought when he ripped off her T-shirt. She realised with terrifying clarity that she was out of her depth. She heard him open
the dresser next to the bed..."
He proceeds to tear off her clothes and stuff her mouth so she doesn't scream.
The actual assault is summed up into one sentence:
"Then she felt an excruciating pain..."
By the time he writes this, we don't need to know anymore details other than the fact that he followed through with his assault.
The scene ends there until he picks up again which brings us to our final example:
Again, since most of the drama was placed on what happened before the assault, Larson had to spend little time with describing anything having to deal with the act. He was able to skim over it and let our imaginations do the rest.
What he does after the scene is something you can also incorporate to really bring home the gravity of the assault, by describing the mood- her/their emotions after the act.
"Salander was allowed to put on her clothes. It was 4:00 on Saturday
morning. She picked up her leather jacket and rucksack and hobbed to
the front door, where he was waiting for her, showered and neatly
dressed. He gave a checque for 2,500 kronor....
She crossed the threshold, out of the apartment, and turned to face
him. Her body looked fragile and her face was swollen from crying, and
he almost recoiled when he met her eyes. Never in his life had he seen
such naked, smouldering hatred."
Think about how your characters might feel when it's done. They could go through a number of emotions beyond anger that you can get creative with: numbness, shock, pain, fear.
What kind of emotions or actions will you give your characters to really help us feel as strongly as they do? You can really spend some time here and the reader will appreciate it. No one gets over an assault without a long period of dread.
So, I've taken a long way to say, you can write about rape as long as you place the focus on the right places, mood, setting, dialogue, actions leading up to the act and finally focusing on emotions.
I'm going to stop typing now.