Apologies in advance for the really serious post, but I think I’ve actually made my point pretty well in the text below and it’d mean a lot to me if you’d read it. Trigger warning for rape and sexual violence.
I want to prove two things:
- Rape is a unique crime not comparable to being robbed or murdered.
- The unique nature of rape makes rape jokes especially heinous.
This post is a sort-of response to a question I got this morning.
Rape is a unique crime.
Rape is not like murder or being robbed, rape is a type of torture - an exceptionally malicious act that has, at its core, no purpose except to inflict exceptional pain on you. It’s an act where the perpetrator not only wants to hurt you in a uniquely personal way, but enjoys the violation. Rape is so much more than just the act of sex - it destroys your bodily and sexual autonomy.
To rape is not merely to deny someone’s will, but to deny them their very personhood. The humiliation and shame experienced by rape victims is completely unique; they experience complete subjugation and the intimate loss of control of their own bodies.
A few weeks ago, I was mugged at gunpoint on North Carolina Ave. in Southeast DC. Now, if I’m ever back there, I’ll be much more apprehensive of my safety that I would’ve been before. This is pretty common - when you experience a violation, the area of the violation no longer feels safe. With rape, the area of violation is your own body.
Jokes about rape are uniquely horrible.
A recent joke that “comedian” Daniel Tosh made about how funny it would be if a girl was raped created a little bit of an internet shitstorm, forcing him to semi-apologize on Twitter. He followed up his apology with this Tweet:
(Personally, I find dead baby jokes a little bit gross.) “How do you get 10 babies into a jar? Blender. How do you get them out? Nachos.” Dead baby jokes, though, operate on in an area entirely removed from reality - nobody who tells that joke is actually contemplating using a baby as hummus, and functionally 0% of people know anyone who’s ever thought about or attempted to eat a pulverized baby.
Compare that to the prevalence of rape in the status quo. It’s estimated that 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Now, if 1 in 3 babies was killed and eaten with tortilla chips, people would think of it not as a joke, but as a horribly serious reality.
Murder jokes are less heinous for a similar reason. The national homicide rate is 4.8 per 100,000 people, meaning that the chance a given person hearing a murder joke will actually be killed is 00.0048%. The chance that you’ll actually trigger a terrible flashback from someone who’s been nearly murdered is damn low.
What really makes the difference between murder jokes and rape jokes, though, is not just the statistics. Murder is something that is taken extremely seriously in our society. Report rates are pretty high, and victims of attempted murder don’t need to worry that they’ll be accused of “asking for it” or being told that what happened to them isn’t a big deal. To be clear, I’m not justifying jokes about homicide.
Jokes about rape serve to make rape less serious. People who enjoy rape jokes commonly want to be told that rape isn’t a big deal, that it’s just sex, and that other people think so, too. A study of unreported acquaintance rapists done by Hinck and Thomas in 1999 found that “These individuals’ propensity to rape was significantly related not only to their acceptance of rape myths and of traditional ideas about male and female sexuality, but also to their belief that male sexual aggression is normal.”
That doesn’t mean that anyone who’s ever laughed at a rape joke is a future rapist. What it does mean is that these jokes provide the ammunition that these people need to justify themselves and think, “Hey, rape is not that big of a deal. It’s funny. Look, they all think so, too.”
Furthermore, the fact that rape isn’t taken seriously or that the blame is attributed to the woman keeps more women from coming forward, seeking justice for themselves, or even from getting counseling. After all, if rape isn’t that big of a deal, and if it was possibly their fault, there’s really no point. Every time a rape victim hears a rape joke, not only can the victim flash back to the rape and relive the experience in excruciating detail, but the victim also has to experience that mindfuck with the invalidation of suffering that comes with the levity of a joke.
To sum up:
- Rape is a type of torture, and rape victims experience severe psychological trauma that goes well beyond the physical damage.
- The prevalence of sexual assault makes it much more likely that either a rapist or a rape victim will hear a given joke about rape.
- Rape jokes perpetuate our society’s fucked up belief that rape isn’t serious.
- Rape jokes empower would-be rapists.
- Rape jokes further harm the victims of rape.
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