I was going to write about something different today, but because of a few things that happened to me this week I decided that instead I need to write about rape jokes. Because, really people, rape jokes are not funny. Ever. Not only are they not ever funny, they are never acceptable. Ever.
In Utah, 1 of every 3 women you meet has been sexually assaulted. 1 of 5 has been raped. It's not much lower than that anywhere and it's a lot higher in some places. So, if you are at a party and there are 10 women there, it is very likely that at least two of them are rape survivors. That means that when you make your rape joke you are damaging two people.
When I hear rape jokes a bunch of things happen really quickly - first, I think about my rape, which causes me to feel anxious and unsafe. Then, I feel shame. I'm an activist. I fight rape culture every day and when someone makes light of it all it makes me feel stupid for caring so much. Of course, that's just a culturally conditioned response and I have a lot of practice overcoming it, so the third thing that happens is I get angry and then scared. See, I get angry so I know I have to speak up. Which makes me scared because I know that I'm going to be blamed with killing the party vibe or accused of being uptight and too serious or made to feel like I've done something wrong by speaking up (IF I'm not called horrible names, and threatened with physical violence, which has happened, on more than one occasion). Of course, that's ridiculous, because why should I be blamed for making people feel uncomfortable when someone has just made me, and probably a lot of other women, feel not only uncomfortable, but unsafe and anxious?
That's what happens to me. I've done hundreds of hours of research about rape culture and slut shaming and sexism. I know what's happening and why and I am still afraid to speak up, imagine how someone else, who doesn't know what I know, feels in the same situation.
Basically, when you tell rape jokes or make a rape-trivializing comment, you are making it harder to exist in this world as a survivor.
I've had a survivor argue with me about this, saying that humor is one of the ways he copes with his trauma. I would never want to judge the coping methods of anyone else, but if that is how you deal, please do it privately. As a survivor you should understand that everyone heals differently and you should be sensitive enough to the feelings of other survivors to refrain from doing anything that would make it harder for them.
That's not all though... it isn't just about choosing not to make it harder for victims and survivors. It's about choosing not to accept this culture that blames and dehumanizes victims and excuses perpetrators.
When you jokingly say, "I hope that person gets raped by a toad!" You imply that if that person really were raped, they would deserve it, at least a little bit, meaning the perpetrator isn't as much to blame. You also dehumanize the person. Think of it this way; if you really saw a rape happening to a person it would be a horrible thing to see, a human being in that kind of pain, experiencing that level of terror.... it couldn't be funny to a person with half a conscience. So, in order to be able to joke about rape, you have to disconnect the hypothetical victim from his/her humanism. By doing this, you desensitize yourself to the humanness of all victims and you desensitize the people listening to you as well.
Again, that's not all though.... if 1/3 of women are sexually assaulted, that means that there are a lot of people out there assaulting. Most rapists think that everyone else is a rapist too, because not all rapists are horrible, serial killing, monsters. Most of the time rapes are perpetrated by "normal" men so, to be a "normal" rapist, you have to be embedded in rape culture, and rape culture tells us that rape is the victim's fault. If rape is the victim's fault, then "normal" people can't help themselves, but rape when confronted with a potential victim.
So, when you trivialize rape or make jokes about it the rapists, and potential rapists, who hear you assume you are a rapist too and it's a normal thing. It solidifies for them that they haven't REALLY done anything wrong and that it won't be a big deal when they do it again.
Okay, I just wrote a lot of stuff that all boils down to this:
If you make jokes about, or trivialize, rape you are making recovery more difficult for victims, endorsing rape culture, and actively excusing and encouraging rapists.
I know that most of rape-jokers reading this are not horrible people. I know that you don't want to hurt survivors or excuse rapists. But that IS what you are doing. If you doubt me, check out some of these studies:
Duran, Mercedes, Miguel Moya, and Jesus L. Megias. "It's His Right, It's Her Duty: Benevolent Sexism And The Justification Of Traditional Sexual Roles." Journal Of Sex Research 48.5 (2011): 470-478. Academic Search Premier. Web. 23 May 2012.
McMahon, Sarah, and G. Lawrence Farmer. "An Updated Measure For Assessing Subtle Rape Myths." Social Work Research 35.2 (2011): 71-81. Academic Search Premier. Web. 23 May 2012.
Yamawaki, Niwako. "Rape Perception And The Function Of Ambivalent Sexism And Gender-Role Traditionality." Journal Of Interpersonal Violence 22.4 (2007): 406-423. Academic Search Premier. Web. 23 May 2012.
They aren't specifically about rape jokes, but they talk about sexism and rape myths. The connections are pretty obvious.