The ‘R’ Word
I recently jumped onto the Community bandwagon – a show about a group of seven misfits attending a community college. It took a while for me to get there, clearly, and I was incredibly resistant when it became the new show set to repeat in my house. In one of the first few episodes I saw, rape was mentioned in a casual and “funny” way and not long after that was “molestation”.
Granted, I admit, these are old episodes and perhaps it’s not being used as comedic fodder in more current shows. In any case, it irked me. This sort of stuff always does.
When I brought this up to someone recently, they talked about there being a rift in comedic circles around the questions “Are rape jokes ever okay?” and “Well, are they okay if it’s the rapist that’s being made fun of?” The first time I heard the second question, I was like “Yeah, sure, okay.” But upon hearing it the second time, I decided that no, in fact, it’s not. At least not for this girl, so your mileage may vary.
It’s my position that using rape and/or molestation for comedic purpose – whether it’s about the survivor or the rapist or the act itself – diminishes the importance of it. It’s a Pandora’s Box of Inappropriateness in my book. Regardless of whether this happens in the media or in our own personal lives, making any kind of joke about it just takes away from how serious a thing it is.
According to RAINN (Rape Abuse & Incest National Network), the statistics are grim and have not improved much, if at all. The vast majority of sexual assaults are never even reported and the 40% that are do not generally lead to an arrest. This doesn’t mean that the survivor (note: I refuse to call them ‘victims’ as their power has already been taken away) was lying or did anything to deserve it (they do not, not under any circumstance), it’s because it’s such a slippery slope.
It’s up to the survivor to prove that it happened and that it was not consensual. This becomes one’s word against another’s and rather than taking a conservative stance and simply letting prosecutors decide whether or not this is a convictable offense, police – who are often woefully untrained in this department – make those decisions.
Even when rapists are arrested and prosecutions begin, there are plenty of reasons why cases are pleaded down or not won. Again, it’s not up to the rapist to prove they didn’t do it. It’s up to the prosecutor/survivor to prove that they did. If murders aren’t simple, rape cases are much less cut and dry. Survivors become the ones put on trial, defending themselves; their choices, character and actions all become public record and things that have no bearing on the incident at hand can lead a jury to form an opinion about the survivor that allows the rapist to walk free.
The appalling statistics don’t provide any comfort. A mere 3% of rapists spend any time in jail. 2/3 of rapes happen between people that know each other and approximately 38% of survivors had considered the rapist a friend of acquaintance. What do you do when the foundation of a relationship is a complete lie? Being raped by someone you don’t know is a hard enough cross to bear, but when it’s someone you thought you knew? Well, it can shake you to the core.
In This Is The End, there’s a lengthy discussion and debate about whether or not to rape Emma Watson. Why is this even up for discussion? It’s not funny and it’s just not something you do. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
Am I this sensitive about rape jokes when they’re about men or about people in prison? That would be a resounding yes. The statistics above aren’t broken down by gender and while it’s generally accepted that it’s more common for men to be the aggressors in these situations, that’s not always the case. In fact, based on stories I’ve heard from men that have had this experience, there’s even more shame for them in talking about it.
As much as I’d love to wave a magic wand and have such things disappear, that’s clearly not realistic. But what is realistic is moving past the fear of talking about it and doing what we can as individuals to keep this a serious discussion rather than a comedic one.
There aren’t many rules in my house, but the big ones are that we don’t crack jokes about such things and unless it’s a serious and direct discussion we don’t even use the words. We use ‘r-word’ and ‘m-word’ as placeholders unless, like I said, it’s a direct discussion about an experience. Am I suggesting that everyone do this? Of course not, but it works for us.
I think it’s also important to not only teach our girls how to protect themselves and be safe, but to teach our boys not to be aggressive in this manner. The excuses that women that dress provocatively or people who drink too much or who say yes and partway through say no deserve it is absolutely unacceptable. No is no is no is no is no. And no one deserves it for any reason.