Rape Culture: Still Not Funny

Today, I’m angry about rape culture. Having to explain to someone near and dear to me, yet again, that rape ‘jokes’ are not funny puts me in foul mood. So I’m going to  lay it out for you. If you’re the sort of person who can tell a joke about rape (unless you’re a survivor), then perhaps you’ve not ever had reason to consider how fucked up our culture is about women and sexual assault. I’m here to tell you it is, and here’s why. (*)

As a woman, a corner of my brain is always assessing whether the men around me are about to do something that will put me in danger of sexual assault.

If I should be assaulted, I will be asked to explain my choice to be at the location of the assault, especially if I am alone. Unless a secondary charge of break and enter applies – a separate crime that will be treated differently and without bias – my assailant will not.

If I should be assaulted, I will be asked to explain my clothing choices. My assailant’s clothing will be considered irrelevant.

If I should know my assailant by name, I will be asked to detail all previous interactions with him. I will be asked to prove that no previous interaction could be held up as “leading him on”. If my previous interactions appear to do this, my assailant will be seen as less responsible for his assault on me. My assailant’s previous actions will count against him only if I have demonstrably never interacted with him – that is, only if he has engaged in provable stalking.

If I should be assaulted whilst alone with a man I have chosen to accompany, whether it be to a car for a lift, on a first date, or a quiet corner at a party or nightclub, I will be asked to explain why I chose to be alone with him. My assailant will not be asked to explain what intentions he communicated to me when I made my decision.

If I should be assaulted whilst intoxicated, mildly or otherwise, I will be asked to explain why I chose to become intoxicated. My assailant’s actions will be judged less harshly if I am intoxicated. My assailant will not be asked to justify his intoxication, and his actions will be judged still less harshly should he be so.

If I should be assaulted after I have engaged in consensual romantic contact with my assailant, such as kissing or touching, I will be asked to explain why I chose to do so. I will be asked to explain why I chose to stop. My assailant will not be asked why he chose to continue.

If I should be assaulted under any circumstances, I will be asked to prove that I clearly, loudly and verbally said the word, “No,” or the word, “Stop.” I will be asked to prove that my assailant heard and understood me. If I indicated my lack of consent in any other way, such as screaming, running, crying, freezing, scratching, kicking, hitting, speaking words other than “no” or “stop”, or if I said the words “don’t” and “stop” close to one other, or if I was not loud enough when I spoke them, my assailant will be judged less harshly. This is especially so if I have given consent to a certain act, but not to another. My assailant will not be asked to prove that I clearly, loudly and verbally said the word, “Yes.”

If I should be assaulted, but not physically injured or not visibly physically injured, I will be asked to explain why I consider my assailant’s act to be assault. My assailant will be treated less harshly if I am not visibly injured.

If I should be assaulted, various people will attempt to convince me that my experience does not count as assault, or that my experience is not serious enough to pursue criminally, legally or otherwise officially. These people may be my family, my friends, law enforcement personnel, medical personnel, legal practitioners, employers, media, members of the public, and my assailant himself. The same people may try to convince my assailant that what he did was not assault.

Should my assault take the form of rape, and should the media report on it, it is likely that the word ‘rape’ will not be used in reporting. Instead, articles will state that I ‘had sex with’ my rapist. It is likely that articles will focus on me and my actions, not that of my rapist. In some articles, if it is acknowledged that I was raped, there will be no mention of my rapist at all. Instead, the article will state that ‘a woman was raped’. My rapist will not have his actions examined by the media.

Should I be assaulted by one or more young boys or teenagers, especially if I am a young woman of similar age, their actions may be explained and accepted as “boys will be boys,” or “sowing wild oats”. If their assault on me is their first sexual experience, this will be especially true. My assailant or assailants’ actions will be judged less harshly, and in some circles, congratulated. I will be called a slut.

Should I be assaulted, and my appearance is such that I am not considered to be sexually attractive, due to my age, weight or physical features, I will be told I should be grateful for my assault. Some will tell me I am engaging in wishful thinking, and that my assault could not have happened. My assailant may be ridiculed for his choice of victim, unless he was intoxicated when he assaulted me. I will feel humiliated, and my assault will still have happened.

Should I be assaulted, and also suffer a preexisting physical or intellectual disability, I may struggle to communicate what has happened to me. If I cannot speak, the tools provided to me to communicate with others may lack ways to articulate sexual assault. I may be considered to be confused about what happened to me. Depending on my disability, some may consider me “lucky” to be assaulted. My assailant, if convicted, will be reviled more than if I did not suffer a disability. Why is this?

Should I be assaulted by a person who is regarded as a celebrity, the fact of their celebrity will be used as an argument or proof of why my assault could not have occurred. I will be asked to explain why my assailant, widely believed to be “a nice guy”, would assault me. I will be asked to explain why my right to justice is worth more than my assailant’s career. I will be asked to prove that I am not pursuing my complaint for monetary gain. My assailant will be presumed innocent, or presumed above the law.

Should I be coerced or threatened before I am assaulted, so that I am silent or so that I perform the acts demanded of me out of fear, I will be asked to explain why my compliance under threat does not amount to consent. My assailant will not be asked to justify his threats to me.

If I should have a previous sexual relationship with my assailant, no matter how long ago or how briefly, I will be asked to explain my sexual life in minute detail. If my explanation includes a suggestion that I may enjoy or have a history of rough sex, my assailant’s actions may be judged reasonable and my accusation unfounded. My assailant will not be asked to detail his sexual history.

If I should decide to report my assault, aware of the above, I will be one of 15% of assaulted Australian women who choose to do so every year. I have a 17% chance of seeing my assailant convicted. Should my case go to trial, it is likely that I will be asked all of these questions when I am on the witness stand. My assailant and his legal team will try to convince the jury of my peers – the same peers who fill comment threads with victim-blaming statements all over the internet – that I am a slut and deserved my assault, or that I am lying about being assaulted, or that I wanted to be assaulted, or that I consented to the assault and later changed my mind.

To disprove “beyond reasonable doubt”, all my assailant must do is convince some of my juror peers that any of these may be true. Convincing evidence may not need to be presented.

Should I choose to report my assault, I will stand public trial for having a vagina. If I am sexually active, I will stand trial for using my vagina. My assailant will not stand trial for possessing a penis. His sexual history will not be public record.

This is rape culture, patriarchy, a legal system suffering from cultural bias. And no, rape is not fucking funny.

* (Yes, I know men can be sexually assaulted too. Yes, I know women can be sexual predators too. I do not wish to minimize or obscure these facts. However, for the purposes of this rant, I am speaking for the overwhelmingly greater prevalence of male assaults on women. That said, should my brother be assaulted by a woman, especially if she is considered conventionally attractive, then he will be told he’s lucky and should have enjoyed it. That’s just as goddamn fucked up.)

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67 responses to “Rape Culture: Still Not Funny

  1. Great post. :)

  2. I’ll second what Beppie said. Also, submitting it to DUFC.

  3. Awesome post! May I link?

  4. Aileen Wuornos

    Oh thank you so fucking much. I’m linking this on my Steam page because I’m sick and tired of having to justify banning people because they use phrases like ‘you got raped’ when I’m playing games.
    It fucking shits me to tears.

    You’ve forgot a couple though:
    When I was raped I was asked why I was in a relationship with my assailant. They never asked the same of him.

    When I was raped my “attractiveness” was considered part of my invitation. I haven’t felt really beautiful in the three years since it happened and I’ve been relapsing/recovering from Anorexia/Bulimia since then.

    After I was raped I had friends desert me. I am fortunate enough to have a supportive family – not all survivors are that lucky. I was called a lying whore by people who five minutes before I told them would have called themselves my best friends.

    When I was raped I was asked if I hadn’t just hallucinated the whole thing due to pre-existing mental illness. My credibility was shattered on that basis. My assailant was never reprimanded for assaulting someone who could barely handle a day in public, let alone additional rape.

    As one of my assailants was a worker for the police force his credibility instantly went up and mine instantly went down.

  5. Pingback: Inspiration « Imho

  6. Saw this from Attack Laurel and it’s the best explanation of how messed up all this is that I’ve seen. Thank you!!!

  7. Pingback: The Twelfth Down Under Feminists Carnival « Zero at the Bone

  8. Goddamn BRILLIANT post, Jet.

  9. Pingback: Happy birthday, DUFC! « Ideologically Impure

  10. I just wanted to reiterate how amazing this post was. You are amazing, well done.

  11. Pingback: There’s something in your hair. I think it’s a piece of meta. « Zero at the Bone

  12. This post is excellent.

  13. Pingback: Why Rape Jokes Aren’t Funny « Gallivant by POPPY GALLICO

  14. If its not funny, why can rape survivors make jokes? It’s never funny. They don’t have the right to allow it to be.

    • Hi Kolleen, I’m sorry that line jarred for you, and also that this reply is late.

      The line If you’re the sort of person who can tell a joke about rape (unless you’re a survivor), then perhaps you’ve not ever had reason to consider how fucked up our culture is about women and sexual assault. is there because I don’t want to tell survivors how to cope with their own experiences, or to tell them that if they do choose to joke, that they don’t know what they’re talking about.

      Shakesville has a couple of relevant posts on survivor humour that shape my thinking on this, here and here.

  15. Thank you for writing this.

  16. Very well written. I appreciated this.

  17. Found this post via StumbleUpon. Thank you for posting this.

  18. I also found this on stumbleupon… Amazing post

  19. found this on stumbleupon as well, great post, i completely agree with the overuse of the term in everyday life

  20. America, you have a loooong way to go. Things are not like this in sweden, come here, see.

  21. I appreciated this a lot. I have numerous friends who have been sexually assaulted at various ages, and it always seems to end up that the guilt and pain lands heavily on their shoulders while their assailants seldom even face justice (whether it is reported or not). And it’s not surprising, given how our culture treats rape.

  22. This is a very impressive blog post. I found this via StumbleUpon. I would like to encourage you to bring these issues to the attention of the media and legislature Down Under. By doing the same here in the US, what a woman wears is not considered relevant in most states.

    I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors.

    • Hi Anne,

      Thanks for the comment. My point in this post is less about what is true legally, and more about what is true socially and culturally. The courts may recognise clothing to be irrelevant, but popular culture does not. Cara over at the The Curvature (http://thecurvature.com/) covers these issues from a USian point of view if you’re interested in reading further.

  23. Really powerful. I just finished a Master’s class on gender and history and we talked a lot about this issue – it often ended up as more of a current affairs debate than a historical one.

    It is mind-boggling to me that people consider it acceptable to make jokes about sexual assault. A lot of anti-feminists will shout about how men can be sexually assaulted by women, too – and I liked that you acknowledged that at the end of your post – but fundamentally, there is an ongoing social problem with women being allowed to define the boundaries and the uses of their own bodies.

    Thanks for the excellent post.

    • I like the sound of your class, Morag – sounds like you must have had a teacher who could make the class a safe space for discussion.

      Thanks for the comment. I think you hit the nail on the head with your observation on defining our own boundaries.

  24. thank you so much for writing this. i’m tired of people making jokes about something that is not funny at all.

  25. Also came here via Stumbleupon! Excellent post!

  26. If somebody makes a rape joke, instantly, no matter how well I know them, I am afraid. Theres that sick stomach falling away feeling, and then the pain that they could possibly think that it could make me feel any differently.

    • Yeah. I know what you mean. Especially when they’re so casual about it that they don’t even realise that the “joke” rests on rape until it’s pointed out to them.

    • Me too. It tells me that there is a potential rapist in the room. Bog forbid you try to tell them (or anyone else) that though.

  27. Excellent post! More people need to see this. I’m thumbs upping it on Stumble and passing it along to friends.

  28. Woo! How passionate… I love how strongly you feel on this issue, and your writing is certain to open many people’s eyes! Bravo Jet :)

    This line caught my eye…

    “If you’re the sort of person who can tell a joke about rape (unless you’re a survivor)”

    To me it feels like this line is implicitly saying that rape-survivors are segregated, special, and somehow unequal to others, who have special rules in people’s (your?) mind which allow them to joke about rape, whereas others are not permitted this same freedom.

    Simply an observation, and I hope it in no way detracts from your phenomenal commentary on a system that clearly has significant room for improvement.

    I also love how active you are with your commenters! Keep rockin’ :)

    • Hi Jason,

      Thanks for the comment.

      What the full sentence you’re referring to says is that if a person is joking about rape, then perhaps they are joking about it because they’ve never considered what a fucked up culture exists around sexual assault and women. I’ve excluded survivors from that assertation because first of all I’m pretty sure they’re well aware of the fucked up nature of rape culture, and second, as I’ve said to Kolleen above, I don’t want to tell surivors how to cope. If a survivor is joking about rape, it still isn’t funny, but it sure as hell isn’t because of a lack of awareness of how awful sexual assault is.

  29. Very interesting post. You make many extremely valid points about the huge problems with how rape is treated by the police and media and I applaud you for bringing it to light. I think, however, that you’re a little off the mark in regards to jokes regarding rape. Of course rape is one of the most disgusting and abhorrent things that one person can do to another but black comedy deals in tragedy. The worse the tragedy the greater the potential for comedy. In my opinion comedy is sacred and there is no subject that is out of bounds. Of course if you’ve been a victim of rape then chances are that a joke regarding it will find you cold. This goes for a joke regarding child abuse if you happen to be a survivor and a ‘your mom’ joke if your mother happens to have passed away. But to make a subject out of bounds for comedy is not the right step. At times sensitivity should, of course, be observed and I’d never make a bad taste joke in the company of someone that I thought it would upset but that does not mean that the joke is not funny, and it certainly doesn’t mean that it should be censored.

    There are a number of occasions that I can think of where rape has been used as part of comedy sketches to excellent effect. See the Channel 4 Chris Morris surreal and extremely dark comedy series ‘Jam’ for a number of amazing examples. The sheer weight of the issue is what leads to the power of the joke. Don’t get me wrong, there are morons out there who don’t treat the subject with the respect it deserves and I believe that it is that form of flippant lazy comedy that you are most upset about. These are the people who may be joking because they have not considered the ‘fucked up culture that exists around sexual assault and women.’ This though should not preclude others from deriving comedy from what is undoubtedly a foul act.

    • Hi Jez,

      First of all, please do me the courtesy of not telling me what I’m “most upset about”. What I’m angry about is rape culture, a term that, from your comment, I assume you’ve haven’t come across before. Melissa McEwan at Shakesville defines it very well in her post Rape Culture 101.

      My post, while touching on attitudes in media and law enforcement, is not about those areas. It is about the rape culture supported by rape ‘jokes’. Your comment seems to assume that rape ‘jokes’ are rare, and that they rest on tragedy as their punchline. Both of those assumptions are incorrect. Rape ‘jokes’ are absolutely normalised and appear in all forms of pop culture with enormous frequency. These ‘jokes’ are not about the tragedy of rape, as you term it; they are ‘jokes’ at the expense of the victim. And every time you tell a ‘joke’ about rape, a joke that makes light of sexual assault, a joke that says some people just ‘deserve’ rape – I’m thinking of prison rape ‘jokes’ here – you’re telling any rapists who are listening that you’re okay with rape, that it’s no big deal. You may think that there are no rapists listening, but you won’t always be right.

      Also, I find it kind of disturbing that you think that only people who have directly experienced something will find a ‘joke’ about it to be offensive. I have not been a victim of rape. I’m pretty clearly left cold about ‘jokes’, wouldn’t you say? I also fail to see why you would suggest that child abuse is ever a joking matter either. And as for ‘your mum’ jokes – well, they’re a seething mass of misogynistic and often fat-hating offensiveness as well.

      There is such a thing as black comedy, of course. The question is, who is the butt of the joke? Is it the rapist, or is it the victim?

      You say you wouldn’t make a joke in the company of someone you think would be upset. One in four women will be raped in her lifetime. Much higher rates for sexual assault. What are the chances that you’re talking to someone who’s been assaulted? Very high. Why is your right to tell your ‘joke’ more important than the right of any survivors around you not to have to think about what happened to them and why you think it’s a joke?

  30. Ditto, Jet. I work with survivors of rape who need humor in order to cope with the pain that the assault has caused. Rape jokes aren’t funny to me, but it may be the only way a human being can face what has happened.

  31. WOW. This is, hands down, one of the greatest pieces of writing I have ever stumbled upon. I am going to share it with every woman AND man that I know. I am glad I found your blog. This is absolutely excellent.

  32. Thank you.

    I was raped when I was 12 on a beach. Because I was so young, and at the age of sexual maturation, the police that I talked to wanted me to state that I only “started the mensuration process.”

    I would like to say at least the laws for rape in your country are clear. Because I live in America, was visiting a different state, and I didn’t want it to be publicized (and I was lucky enough for it to stay quiet) The investigation ended one month later.

    It has been 13 years, 8 months, and 1 day since I was raped. I haven’t found him since that day.

    • Hi Kekma,

      I’m so sorry. **virtual hugs, if you want them**

    • Kekma, I am sorry that you were sexually assaulted. I am happy, though, that you are a survivor. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope that you will find a way to make peace with this, become empowered, and one day be able to look back on this as something that made you stronger than you could ever imagine.

      I encourage you to join a survivor support group. Your account may help others simply by knowing they are not alone.

      (You are not alone.)

    • “the police that I talked to wanted me to state that I only ‘started the mensuration process.'”

      W.
      T.
      F.

      And people have the audacity to wonder why rape is so damned underreported. If the police don’t take seriously the rape/assault of a 12-year-old GIRL — even sex with a minor is statutory rape, FFS — then why in the world would any woman or girl get any justice?

      I hope you’re healing, Kekma. I was 18, and I know where he is (roughly), but it still hurts.

  33. I was a my brother-in-laws bachelor’s party when one of the guys referred to going out to ‘rape and pillage’. I pulled him aside and told him that was messed-up and he had no way of knowing which if the guys there had been affected by someone they knew being raped. I was nervous doing it, he was apologetic, and I felt good after doing it.

  34. Thanks for the rant, probably informs a lot of people out there. Good job =]

  35. Where to start…?
    Ok, I am a man. I am also a survivor of sexual crimes. I read and understood what you posted here, and I totally get it – and what I appreciate most is that in the first few lines, you acknowledge a need and right for survivors to cope with their experience in a manner that works for them.

    I use dark humor to trivialize what happened to me. To me, it is EXTREMELY important for sexual crimes to be something I can treat callously and coldly joke about as if it doesn’t happen or that it somehow really IS funny (when I know inside that it just isn’t).

    I fully recognize that not everyone is comfortable with my means of coping with personal trauma – but I’m not sorry. I do empathize, and I do understand the rage that this subject invokes in people – and the fear and horror of the situations involved. At times, when I’m not dealing well with things, I contemplate just how callous our society is about the subject of Rape and it ruins me – for weeks at a time. The only escape that has ever worked for me is to make it funny in my mind – so I can’t be sorry for offending someone or disturbing others with what they perceive as disgusting failed attempts at humor.

    You’re right. Our entire planet perpetuates sexist cultures that promote the worst acts imaginable for people who cross the lines. I won’t tell people to lighten up – I never do. If someone gets upset with me, in time I try to explain why my humor is so damn dark – but again, I cannot apologize for it – it is selfish and for the sake of my own ability to function, I don’t care. If they cannot accept the necessity of it, then I get to suffer the unfortunate circumstance of discovering who my real friends are.

    I hope this brings insight to some of the people who can’t understand the thinking behind such jokes – rushing to judgment on anything is foolish at all times, even when the surface says you should.

  36. I do not understand what’s wrong. You think you have been raped? Prove it, thorough and reasonably. Or do you want to throw out men in prison without a single effort? It’s like domestic violence: domestic violence is not, as a statement about it is, and the husband becomes a criminal slave wife after divorce.

    • I don’t understand what’s wrong. You think you had consensual sex? Prove that your partner was enthusiastically participating, thorough and reasonably. Prove that your partner was legally able to give consent and was an enthusiastic participant in each and every act you undertook together. Or do you want to go around raping people without a single thought?

      The rest of your comment is so nonsensical I can’t even work out what you think you’re saying. As a clue, though, domestic violence and rape are not the same thing. Rape is not like anything, except rape.

  37. Pingback: SEVAS TRA – T.R.I.C | anti social butterfly

  38. I’m so glad I discovered your blog! And I’m also really glad that you have the guts to say all these things. Keep going, you’re awesome.

  39. Jet, thank you so much for your post. This is something that needs to be addressed in our society. I’m going to share this with as many people as I can. This needs to be heard!

  40. Ben there. Dun that. The Fing Bastard ripped my dam T shirt!

  41. You know…I distinctly remember sitting in a sex ed class where the (male) teacher said, “Boys, if you have sex with a girl, she can turn around at any time and accuse you of raping her; and chances are the judge is gonna side with the girl.” Like in his mind, the accused rapist had better chance of being a victim than the actual victim.

    It’s kind of sickening how prevalent mindsets like that seem to be.

  42. A man at a reception after a film which happened to be a held at the bar area of a hotel kissed me for all of two secondsand reached his hand down my shirt. I didn’t mind the kiss, I definitely did not want him reaching his hand down my shirt. I did not expect it at all. I don’t think the police did anything about it.

    I was blamed for qoing to that quiet corner in a back room when I thought there were still people around.

    It makes me so angry. Aren’t there any genuinely nice men who want to take me out and treat me nice? FUCK!

  43. Also, it’s a very sick mind which think consent to A equals consent to A and B and C.

  44. Pingback: rape jokes aren’t funny « Poppy Gallico

  45. I especially appreciate the (*). Too often that is forgotten! Well-spoken, and well-thought out.

  46. This is so fucked up,and yet so entirely true that I can’t even tell you how angry and powerless I feel right now.I’m sick to my stomach of victim-blaming,slut-shaming and rapist-fucking-covering.Every time I hear about a rape,an assault,etc,the first thing someone tells is how the woman was an idiot for drinking,hanging out with the guy,chatting over the Net.No one values the mention of how terrible is to rape,and how pointless and wanton cruel and inhuman.
    Also,don’t you hate the trials when the victim is shamed and made to appear consenting?The first thing I remember about such circumstances is a movie where a lawyer tried to state the victim wanted the assault.Ever since, I decided I would never be a lawyer,if chhances were I would defend these kind of people.
    Congratulations on the post!

  47. An eloquent and depressingly accurate assessment of one of the key points of rape culture. Thank you, Jet.

    I’ve been campaigning for years now, in my own small way, to try to get the message across that rape jokes, victim-blaming myths about what causes rape, and slut shaming all do the same thing: they support rapists by giving them permission, an excuse, a defence in court and a defence in their own minds that helps them deny that what they are committing is an atrocious hate crime.

    The people I wind up fighting with can sometimes accept that rape jokes are “mean” to rape victims (They don’t like to say “traumatising” “trivialising” or “triggering”), but they feel that “freedom of speech” transcends “one person’s feelings”. But what I can never get them to see is that there are, without any shred of doubt, actual rapists reading their posts or hearing their words and feeling *validated* by them.

    I blogged about the subject recently myself, mostly in the hope of getting several psychological studies that really do prove the point, out into the public eye. http://121gigawattsoflove.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/rape-myths-and-victim-blaming-pat-on.html

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