Why Rape Jokes Are Never Funny

29 May

Re-posted from PolicyMic

by Kat Kelley

Rape jokes are not innocuous. They perpetuate rape culture and promote rape myths which consequently invalidate the experiences of survivors and justify the actions of perpetrators of sexual violence.

According to Force: Upsetting Rape Culture, rape culture (or rather, our culture) is a culture in which we are “surrounded with images, language, laws, and other everyday phenomena that validate and perpetuate rape. Rape culture includes jokes, TV, music, advertising, legal jargon, laws, words and imagery, that make violence against women and sexual coercion seem so normal that people believe that rape is inevitable. Rather than viewing the culture of rape as a problem to change, people in a rape culture think about the persistence of rape as ‘just the way things are.’”

Memes or jokes glorifying sexual violence desensitize us, and significantly impact survivors and perpetrators of sexual violence.

I’ve heard statistics on statistics on statistics about survivors, perpetrators, and the acts themselves, but what I find to be most heartbreaking is that only 5% of college women who are raped report it to the police, and 42% tell no one about the experience. Clearly, the legal system isn’t the only problem.

In the past, I served as a sexual assault crisis counselor on a 24-hour hotline. I’d listen to survivors’ and loved ones’ stories, I’d explain their reporting options and the pros and cons of reporting, and I’d help them navigate our center’s services. I learned quickly, however, that survivors didn’t just need to find a counselor or to be tested for STIs. Rather, survivors needed to be told “I believe you,” and to know that whatever they are feeling, however they are (or aren’t) coping, is valid. They needed to take to heart that what had happened was not their fault, as one of the most common symptoms of rape trauma syndrome is guilt.

GUILT. As a society we teach “don’t get raped” rather than “don’t rape.”Consequently, survivors ask themselves “What could I have done differently? How could I have prevented this? Was I not clear enough? I shouldn’t have drank that, worn this, talked to them.”

Rape jokes tell survivors of sexual violence that you are not an ally, that they cannot reach out to you for support, that you will either invalidate their story, or worse blame, chastise, interrogate, or disbelieve them. Rape jokes tell survivors that they need to “get over it,” that their emotions and trauma are not legitimate, because rape is funny. It isn’t a big deal. It isn’t that different from failing a test. Rape jokes often reinforce rape myths, that men just can’t control themselves, or that women are “asking for it” by speaking out, dressing a certain way, or not obeying.

Rape jokes are a major barrier to survivors reporting and consequently a barrier to holding perpetrators accountable. While one in six women experience rape or attempted rape, that certainly doesn’t mean that one in six men are rapists. Rather, most perpetrators are repeat rapists, perpetrating an average of six rapes. That means that our failure to create an environment in which survivors feel safe and supported through the reporting process allows for further victimization.

Rape jokes also teach perpetrators that their actions are normal and acceptable. Rapists don’t consider themselves rapists. They don’t associate their actions with the world ‘rape,’ even if they’ll admit to acts that constitute as rape. (For example, answering “yes” to questions such as “Have you ever had sexual intercourse with an adult when they didn’t want to because you used or threatened to use physical force […] if they didn’t cooperate?”) Through their ability to dissociate their actions from the word “rape,” rapists assume that their actions are normal, that all men are rapists.

And rape jokes reinforce this. Rape jokes tell rapists that their actions aren’t anything different from normal, healthy sexuality. Rape jokes condone rapists’ actions. To rapists, they are a confirmation that other men- those telling the jokes, and those laughing at them- are rapists as well.

Rape jokes are not just insensitive. They are microaggresions, contributing to our rape culture, and sending the message that sexual violence is acceptable, inevitable, the status quo.

We don’t have to tolerate it. It is our responsibility to end rape culture.

5 Responses to “Why Rape Jokes Are Never Funny”

  1. Dominique Hayes May 30, 2013 at 10:21 am #

    Thank you for this. Too many people tell me that I just need to “lighten up” whenever I speak out against this kind of so-called “humour”. No. No, I don’t need to lighten up, everyone else needs to get an effing clue.

    I am a survivor of sexual abuse, and while different from being raped, it is still a form of sexual violence, and it has impacted the way I see the world. It has also influenced the way I interact with others–my male friends quickly learn what is and is not acceptable around me and why. Not only that, but I had a friend who was raped by her partner–which is still rape, even though some people wanted to argue with her that it wasn’t, because hey, they’d been dating for almost a year, after all. I’m the only person she feels safe talking to about the trauma, or when something she sees/hears/experiences triggers her, because I am the only person who will set aside my personal discomfort and let her say what she needs to say. Who believes her, and doesn’t try to tell her that “your boyfriend can’t rape you.”

    This issue is real and it’s ugly and I hate that so many people are fighting against those of us who are trying to raise awareness. I have days where I want to set the world on fire because of things like this.

  2. Logan June 2, 2013 at 9:09 am #

    Too many claims made with too little evidence to support them. You can’t back assumptions with assumptions. Rape jokes don’t validate rapists or give the go-ahead to potential rapists. I’m sorry but all you’ve done here is discredit yourself with your alarmist fear-mongering and generalized statements.

    Ignorance regarding sexual violence is a serious problem but the problem isn’t an often satirical form of comedy but a literal ignorance that is sustained by lack of education.

  3. soireadthisbooktoday June 5, 2013 at 6:19 pm #

    Reblogged this on So, I Read This Book Today . . . and commented:
    This is a wonderful article. I have had people tell me that I am stupid and a sexually deficient being because I do not condone the whole “rape as wonderful sex” in romance and romantic fantasy novels. As a rape victim, I abhore the prevalence of rape scenes in books these days where the rape is seen as simply an issue of “sexual exploration”. Rape is a violent act, not a sexual one. Rape jokes, rape scenes as ‘choice’ in novels, all put forward the idea that sexual violence is an acceptable action that women encourage. That “NO” means “yes, just make me do it and I will love it in the long run”. This is the same idea that makes victims fail to come forward, to suffer horrible and often commit suicide because they can’t handle the shame – because they feel it is their fault in some way that they were raped. Even children who are sexually abused are often forced into this mindset, therefore never getting the help that they need to overcome this horror. It seems that, the more we advance as a developed and technological society the more savage we become.


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    […] Why Rape Jokes Are Never Funny (feministsatlarge.wordpress.com) […]

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