CW: Sexual Assault
“I don’t know if rape jokes encourage rape culture. I don’t care. You still shouldn’t tell them.Statistically, if you have told a rape joke to a group of more than five people, one of the people you told it to was a rape survivor, possibly of multiple rapes. They will not necessarily disclose this to you; rape apologism is endemic in society and most rape survivors are cautious about whom they tell. Some may even be too ashamed of their rape to admit it to anyone, or because of rape-minimizing narratives like “men can’t be raped” and “I consented to oral, so I couldn’t have been raped” may not admit it even to themselves. The fact remains: if you’ve told dozens of rape jokes in your life, then you have almost certainly told a joke that minimizes or trivializes rape in front of a survivor.And if you put as your Facebook status “I totally raped at Halotoday” for your two hundred Facebook friends to see, statistically, you have just reminded thirty-three people of one of the worst experiences of their entire lives.To describe how well you did at a video game. Good job!”
That quote perfectly sums up what I’ve constantly tried (often with little success) to explain to people who make light of or trivialize rape. Recently in Ann Arbor, there was a string of sexual assaults, and some of the responses I saw from people–some of whom I claim as friends–made me absolutely livid. The majority of them were on Twitter. At the onset of campus concern, one man joked that girls should watch out because men were “starting to get touchy-feely”, which is a gross understatement in response to two attempted rapes, and a successful one, in which the victim was dragged into an alley.
But surprisingly, many people found it funny, some prefacing their @ reply or retweet with something along the lines of “smh, you’re wrong for this, but…” Another joked that he planned to put a friend out as bait for the rapist, and valiantly save the city from further attacks. At the height of the media frenzy, as the crime alerts kept coming in, numerous people I follow, men and women alike, engaged in light-hearted commentary on the situation, which they may have perceived as perfectly innocent, and a way of easing troubled minds. I checked a few of them on their comments, and was met not with remorse, but with tones of annoyance. Obviously these were just jokes; I shouldn’t get so upset, or take myself so seriously.
The problem is that they weren’t just jokes. They were triggers, reminders as a survivor of my own experience, and my personal dealings with its trivialization.
Undoubtedly, they were also triggers for other survivors; recall the statistics of the aforementioned quote. But these things are easy to ignore in the name of comedy. The good thing about internet idiocy, however, is that it can be avoided (however briefly) by just getting offline. Over the next week or two, I avoided Twitter when I saw the topic arise, or temporarily muted people whose ignorant commentary didn’t seem to have an end in sight. But within that timeframe, I was forced on multiple occasions to sit face-to-face with people who had no qualms about trivializing what was going on in Ann Arbor, and how it was affecting people. That was far worse, and much less easy to mitigate. The most hurtful conversation came when talking to two female pseudo-mentees of mine.
During a conversation about what was happening (and one of their mother’s “overreaction”), one said: “Well, most of these are just sexual assaults. Only one person’s been ‘raped’ raped.” I took a deep breath as the heat of anger and the chill of irritation simultaneously overtook my body; there are few other times in my life that I’ve had so much difficulty stopping myself from verbally (or physically) obliterating a person. It literally took everything in me to remain calm, as I tried to explain that it was unfair to trivialize the trauma of the other women because they had escaped rape. But again, I was met with the “rape” rape argument, and so I just shut the conversation down completely to avoid getting emotional; I was almost on the verge of tears. The remainder of the visit went somewhat smoothly, but I couldn’t get that “just” out of my head.
Regardless of the fact that some of the women in the string of assaults escaped forcible rape (which is a good thing), “just” is not a word that should be used in discussing their experience. The average person will jump at an out of place sound or person while walking alone at night. So to have someone appear, attempt to force themselves upon you, and in most cases, touch you sexually, is no minimal event. Yet for some, these women have nothing to find traumatic; they should be grateful that they only had to endure some groping at the hands of a stranger, and were able to break his grasp to avoid something worse.
This shallow perception not only fails to grasp the trauma of attempted rape, but also ignores the potential backstory of victims. The experience is difficult to process on its own, but takes on a different light when someone has previously been assaulted. If I have been forcibly raped before, a firm grasp on the wrist, and an attempt to pull me into a dark place, creates a different type of terror. If I suffered childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a family member for multiple years, someone lifting my dress and grabbing me without my consent is the worst kind of trigger.
“Just” is also what trivializes any form of rape that doesn’t comply with the sensationalized definition that our media has created. I’ve personally had to deal with this, which is why I can’t stand its use in discussing assault. To much of the general populace, if a woman isn’t dragged kicking and screaming behind a bush by her assailant, she somehow got lucky. Survivors of drugged date rape don’t “have it as bad” because many were not conscious for their assault, or have little to no recollection. Survivors of rape that occurred after previous consent shouldn’t be as upset; they did say yes before they said no. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse probably don’t remember it that well, and might be making some of it up anyway. Spousal rape survivors are making a big deal out of nothing; you’re obligated to have sex with the person you marry, so you shouldn’t be surprised when your ‘no’ isn’t taken seriously. And I don’t even have time to start on the plight of male survivors, who before anything else, have to deal with the idea that for them, rape is impossible.
Finally, in an incredibly indelicate approach to an experience from which some people are never able to heal fully, “just” is used to excuse tasteless, triggering commentary as a joke. Commentary that is sometimes made directly to a survivor. I rarely speak about my own experience, for various reasons, so the majority of the people I associate with don’t have a single clue that I am a survivor. That’s made for many an infuriating, yet interesting experience, when I’ve tried to educate/check people, and they’ve treated me like a hypersensitive idiot. No one has ever stopped to think for a moment that my frustration comes from a place of experience, both as a survivor, and as a close friend to/family member of other survivors.
Someone’s experience with sexual assault is not “just” what you choose to think it is. And comedic commentary about it isn’t “just” a joke. Before you attempt to trivialize or kid about rape, think about who your comments will effect, and how.
And then shut the fuck up.